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Criminal Minds – The Bond – Review: “Mother Knows Best”

This week, the team got to take down Norman Bates!

Well, someone very similar to him, at least. This episode found the BAU traveling to the southeastern U.S. (Georgia, to be more specific – what is it with this show and that state?) to deal with a case involving a mother and son who are disturbingly close for comfort. Fortunately, they don’t take it to the kinds of creepily sexually ambiguous means that the infamous Bates family did, but still, there’s enough similarities here to add an extra chill factor to an otherwise typical episode.

The Case:

A man is coming to visit his mom in what looks to be some sort of elderly care facility. This is a particularly special visit, too – it’s the first time they’ve seen each other in the past twenty-four years. Clearly, they have a LOT of catching up to do.
Randy wastes no time in telling his mom what’s going on in his life, either, immediately sharing some joyous news with her. Seems he’s been in a relationship with a woman named Chloe for some time now, and he’s planning on proposing to her soon. His mom seems to be very supportive of this idea, and she helps him calm his nerves a bit.

Randy’s also grateful for the reunion with his mom because now he can open up to her about a less happy aspect of his life: a string of recurring nightmares. Who better to soothe a person after a bad dream than their mom, right? He’s afraid there might be something wrong with him, and he may well be right. Because while he’s discussing the nightmares with his mom, the episode cuts to scenes of him taking a late night drive, hoping, he explains to his mom, to clear his head of the scary dreams. At one point during his drive, he comes across a homeless man attempting to take shelter from the pouring rain, and generously offers him a ride and a chance to get dry.

Anyone who’s watched even a fraction of this show knows that when someone gets into a stranger’s car, however, that’s a sign that something very bad is about to happen to at least one of the occupants. This is no exception. As Garcia explains to the team the next day, the homeless man turns out to be the latest victim in what looks to be a rash of violent killings in truck stops throughout the southeastern U.S. An elderly school teacher named Claire was also recently murdered. Both of them were stabbed, tied to the toilets in the restrooms at these truck stops and posed, and their ears are missing as well. A weird setup for a case, to say the least, and to make matters even more unsettling, we get another glimpse at Randy’s mom, and she seems a little…off. Apparently the apple didn’t fall far from this particular tree.

The team learns a little more about Clare as they begin work on their case. She was married to her high school sweetheart, she and her husband didn’t have any children of their own, but she doted on her students. She was well-loved, well-respected, and was about as low-risk a victim as one could get. Her husband had last heard from her a couple days prior, and knew something was wrong when she hadn’t beat him home from work.

At this point the team’s thinking Clare is a surrogate for whomever this killer really wants to confront. They also suspect the unsub is likely a truck driver, given where he dumps his victims, and considering the mental stress that such a long, tiring job can bring. There have been stories in the past of truck drivers committing crimes, after all, so it’s certainly a plausible theory.
Problem is, though, he’s leaving these victims in public, instead of trying to hide them. A risky move for a killer, especially given how busy truck stops can be with people coming in and out throughout the day. Add in the bizarre and erratic way in which these victims are killed – stabbed while wearing bags, stabbings are erratic and hectic, and the team initially believes this man isn’t all that experienced in committing murder.

At the same time, however, he’s also aware of when these truck stops are at their busiest, and knows that most truckers will drive for quite a while before pulling over to take a break. And Garcia’s search of local truck companies isn’t bringing up any suspicious behavior or history with employees. So this guy may not be a trucker after all, but rather uses the truckers’ schedule to his advantage, which suggests methodical planning. His choice of disposal sites and careful staging further back up that theory. That sort of behavior suggests at least some level of experience, and perhaps a prior history of killing as well. It’s a strange contradiction, but if Randy’s mom is somehow helping him with these killings, which is my assumption at this point, then that could easily explain the discrepancies.

Speaking of Randy and his mom, we check back in with them. He’s making another trip to see her, and hello, childhood flashbacks upon seeing the Connect Four game they’re playing during this visit! Randy brings more good news this time, too: Chloe said yes to his proposal! All this talk of Chloe has me increasingly nervous, though. Knowing what we know about Randy already, and considering we have yet to actually see Chloe, was I the only one dreading some horrifying reveal that she was already dead or being held captive somewhere or something, and that she was only Randy’s “girlfriend” in his twisted imagination?

But whatever. Randy starts telling his mom his plans for his upcoming wedding, revealing a big dream in the process. He longs to have his entire family come and celebrate this special day in his life…his biological father included. Aw.

His mom immediately shoots down that idea, though, making it quite apparent that there’s no love lost between her and Randy’s father. She blames her ex-husband for keeping her and Randy apart for so long. So. That’s awkward. Fortunately, he gets a little pick-me-up in the form of a call from Chloe later that day (oh, good, she is alive. But of course, now I want to tell her to get the hell away from Randy). Or at least, it should be a happy moment. He doesn’t seem all that keen to talk to her or come right home.

But he placates her for the time being anyway…right before following a real estate agent into a house. Uh-oh. Cut to a short time later in yet another rest stop. The woman’s tied to a toilet, posed, all the usual stuff…and Randy’s taking pictures of her in that state to boot. Creeeeeeeeeeepy.

Meanwhile, the team finally makes a bit of headway in discovering a curious connection between their victims. Before the homeless man became homeless, he apparently worked as a defense attorney. And the real estate agent, Linda, had connections to the law and court systems. Hmmm. Specific targets – further proof of some level of experience and planning. This still doesn’t explain how Claire fits into the equation, mind, but it’s an important clue nonetheless.

Their investigation of Linda’s crime scene also tells them that their guy is getting much more confident with his killings, thus furthering their concern. Between the BAU’s assumption that Claire is a surrogate for the killer’s rage, and the fact that two of his victims worked in the court system, it’s clear this man is trying to seek revenge for past wrongs of some kind.

Randy’s next visit to his mom doesn’t go nearly as well as his previous ones. She’s all moody and giving him the cold shoulder because he dared to spend time with his fiancée over her. She doesn’t trust Chloe, and insists that she’s no good for Randy. It’s becoming increasingly clear that she has a deeply unhealthy bond with her son, and I can’t stop hearing the scary music from ‘Psycho’ in my head at this point.

Unfortunately, her words echo in Randy’s mind when he returns home to Chloe later on. She’s upset with him for not taking his required medication (most likely tied to whatever mental issues he’s struggling with), and dares to criticize his precious mother to boot. Bad idea. He violently lashes out at her, but thankfully stops short of going any further in his attack. Chloe makes the wise choice to get the hell out of that house afterward, but knowing this show, I can’t help but worry that she won’t make it out of there in time.

My fears are further confirmed when Randy returns to apologize to his mom for not listening to her about Chloe. He gives her a twisted make-up present in the form of those photos of Linda’s murder, and agrees to her suggestion to get rid of his fiancée. Soon after, we see him kidnap her as she goes to get into her car, and he brings her out to an isolated barn that he’s kept having strange visions about throughout the entire episode. This is not good.

Back at the police station, the BAU finally figures out Claire’s role in this whole crazy mess. Since she was a teacher, they theorize that the unsub could’ve been one of her students. And voila, whaddaya know, they’re right. Garcia pokes around online and we finally learn a little more backstory about Randy and his mom (whose name happens to be Flora).

Turns out when Flora was younger, she was raped by a truck driver, and that’s how she became pregnant with Randy. During her interview with Tara, Flora also reveals, to our horror, that this creep cut off her ear during his attack. Certainly much easier to sympathize with her vitriolic reaction to Randy’s mention of his dad now.

Her anger towards her attacker didn’t stop there, though. Flora’s rage was so strong that she actually spent a number of years afterward killing truck drivers, hoping to find and kill the one who’d raped her in the process. And she did…with help from Randy. Turns out Flora had held her rapist captive at the very same barn that Randy is now taking Chloe to. Late one night, she brought Randy out there to see this creep in person.

She also ordered her son to help kill him, and made him cut off his ear. Needless to say, that was a deeply traumatic experience for Randy, and also what got him started on the path to becoming a serial killer. Afterward, Randy’s teacher Claire noticed there was trouble brewing in his home, and alerted the authorities. As a result, Flora was arrested, and the courts put Randy elsewhere, thus separating the two of them for all these years. Flora blamed Claire and the courts for taking her son away from her, and made a kill list involving these victims, which she then passed on to Randy. If she couldn’t kill these people herself, her son could carry on the murderous legacy. That is some twisted family devotion.

We also learn that during the past two plus decades, Flora’s been a resident of the prison’s mental asylum – aka, the place Randy has been regularly visiting throughout this episode. After the team manages to save Chloe and talk Randy down, we see him winding up in asylum care, too. He and his mom can’t see each other anymore, though, given their respective criminal pasts. Randy struggles with this, and we end on the haunting image of him sitting in his cell, his face bloody from where he’d cut his own ear off. A deeply disturbing note to end on.

Not a whole lot to really comment on about this episode besides the obvious Norman Bates-esque parallels. I did like that unlike last week’s episode, there were a couple unexpected moments throughout. Chloe attempting to escape was an interesting touch, and I rather wish she’d managed to get away completely and hide somewhere. I think there might’ve been even more tension in her hiding out in her own safe place, all the while waiting in fear that Randy might find her (or maybe seeing him coming towards wherever she’s hiding out and trying to figure out what to do next).

Also, judging from the promos for this episode, I’d initially thought Flora would be an active participate in these crimes, but her role was more of a background one, quietly pulling the strings. I liked that the promos were deceiving in that regard. I think that setup worked a lot better, because it made her intense control over Randy that much creepier. Especially considering that to most unsuspecting visitors, she probably looks like a kindly older woman who couldn’t harm a flea.

That was another good thing about Flora’s character. Despite the unsettling control she had over Randy, she was still vulnerable enough to where we could feel genuine sympathy for her in regards to both her horrible attack and her struggle to deal with her child being ripped out of her already unstable life. Even Randy had elements of that same vulnerability in him – he was much scarier in many ways, sure, given he was the one actually committing the murders. But knowing the kinds of disturbing things he was subjected to as a child, and considering the fact that he was born into deep and violent turmoil, his turning to a life of crime was more sad and unsurprising than anything else. We’ve seen a few criminals on this show over the years that seemed to have the deck stacked against them from the start, and those often tend to be some of the most heartbreaking stories. Flora and Randy are no exception.

I do feel, though, that the show could’ve tapped a little more into how Randy felt about being forced to kill his “dad” at such an early age. He was clearly devoted to his mom, but the team had made note of the fact that Claire was likely a surrogate for whomever Randy’s rage was really meant for, and if that’s the case, since Claire would’ve been around Flora’s age, I feel like that part of the storyline could’ve been explored a little more. Does he blame his mom for setting him on this messed up path from the start? Since he was getting more and more confident as a murderer, might he have eventually rebelled against his mom’s instructions? And what if he questioned his mom’s suggestion to kill Chloe? A few potential questions and ideas to mull over.

All of that being said, however, considering all the big things that have been happening with the team on and off the job thus far this season, I think many viewers are generally more interested in seeing the fallout from or continuation of those stories than anything else right now. Yes, this show has to do its weekly cases, but it would’ve been nice to, at the very least, maybe touch on some of what the team’s been through up to now to help balance out the typical “case of the week” setup, both in this episode and the prior one.

But for whatever reason, the writers decided not to go that route, so in a rare occurrence, we didn’t have any sort of little side story with one or more of the team members this week. I will say, though, that I do consider the lack of personal stories a good thing in one respect. Given everything with Flora and Randy in this episode, and mention of mental asylums and Randy visiting his mom and all, I briefly wondered if maybe everything with Reid’s mom would be touched on as a result. But since I’m rather certain that doing so would’ve only led to more sad news about Diana Reid in the process, I’m kind of glad the show didn’t go there at the same time, too.

No new episode next week, so we’ll meet back here again in a couple weeks’ time.

What did you think of the episode? Did the ‘Psycho’-esque storyline work for you? Did you sympathize with Flora and Randy’s tragic pasts? 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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