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Criminal Minds - Blue Angel - Review: “Retribution”

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Don’t let the title of this review fool you. Despite its ominous tone, it’s only in reference to this episode’s case. Yes, just like with our last episode, this is another typical case of the week outing, with all the drama being confined only to the case itself. Unlike the previous case, however, this one wasn’t quite so clear-cut and predictable. That’s a good thing, too, as it kept me, and likely many other viewers guessing for much of the episode, and gave us some intriguing and genuinely unsettling moments along the way.

This episode also gave us a glimpse into new team member Matt Simmons’ home life. Since those who watched “Beyond Borders” got to know him pretty well on there, they kept the “personal life” bits fairly brief, but even then, it was a nice bit of light, fluffy distraction, which, given all we’ve seen these characters go through thus far, was a welcome change of pace.

The moments with Matt were also a nice balance to the dark and creepy nature of the case itself. Thankfully, the show spared us seeing any grotesque images this week, but our imaginations weren’t quite as lucky, if the descriptions we heard throughout are anything to go by. Brace yourselves as we prepare to wade through this messed up nightmare.

The Case:

Things start off on a mysterious note, as we see a car driving into a dark, wooded area. A person decked out in black, their face completely shrouded, grabs some sharp instruments, so it’s pretty clear at this point that something nefarious is afoot.

Sure enough, that winds up being true, as the mystery person enters some sort of building, where there’s even more sharp instruments, along with a wheelchair. They seem to be examining if the place is ready, and evidently it is, as they return to their car shortly afterward, only to reveal somebody is being held captive in the trunk. A poor guy’s already crappy night is about to get even worse.

That poor guy’s name, as we soon learn is Curtis, and Emily informs us, and the team, of the nightmare he suffered. Garcia tries to be as delicate as possible as she helps fill in the details, but even then, the facts are still pretty graphic. Curtis was hung in the warehouse, after having suffered all sorts of severe injuries – cuts and bruises and the like.

Oh, yeah, and the unsub completely chopped off his entire manhood as well. So that’s disturbing. Reid’s reaction to this unpleasant bit of news was pretty similar to mine.

As is par for the course with this show, this is clearly not the unsub’s first kill, either. A man named Darrel had been found dead recently as well, and sure enough, he was murdered the same way Curtis was. Tara and Matt throw out a few potential theories regarding the graphic nature of these murders; she suggests potential drug cartels, while he wonders if this is the work of the Chaldean Mafia, a brutal and notorious organization based out of Detroit. Matt had become familiar with their crimes when he worked in that state years prior. As the team prepare to head out to Detroit, we see another man being held captive and pleading for his life, so yep, there’ll soon be a new body waiting for the team when they arrive.

Judging from what little info the team can gleam about Curtis and Darrel, they don’t seem like obvious targets. Curtis was an attorney, and that job comes with its own risks, but this sort of murder seems a bit over the top in terms of potential retaliation. And Darrel was about as mild-mannered as they come. However, both men did recently withdraw nearly ten thousand dollars, which, naturally, gets the red flags up. People generally don’t pull that large an amount of money just for the heck of it. Later, when Matt and Emily interview Curtis’ wife, they get a better idea of just why Curtis could’ve been using that money. According to her, Curtis handled the family finances, and her reaction to the transactions indicates she suspected her husband was sneaking around on her. Combine that suspicion with him blowing tons of money on a woman, and the team’s been down this road enough times to know what’s likely going on. Curtis, and Darrel, were paying for escorts.

“They were honest relationships. More honest than marriage, I’d say.”

With Garcia’s help, the team learns about a site called Blue Siren, which initially looks like your average dating site, but is quickly revealed to be an escort service website. And the woman Curtis and Darrel met up with was named Dasha. Clearly a professional name. After finding out where the Blue Siren headquarters are (apparently it’s in a college sorority house, which is interesting), JJ and Luke head out there to interview a woman who works for that site. She’s not there when they arrive, but another woman who worked with her tells them that her real name is actually Kimberly. She’s no longer part of the Blue Siren group, but the woman confirms that Curtis and Darrel did visit the Blue Siren site, and were likely involved with Kimberly at some point. Kimberly insists that her relationships with the men she saw were purely innocent and safe, though.

Emily and Matt later track down Kimberly herself, and they inform her about the murders. She’s understandably horrified, and starts to fear that she might be a target as well. As a result, Emily sets up a protective detail for her, and Matt does his part by staying and keeping her company for the night. She discusses how easy it is for married men to be lured in by women like her, because of the forbidden nature of the encounter, and even attempts a slight flirtation of her own. Matt ain’t biting, though. He's got a job to do, dagnabit.

Elsewhere, JJ and Luke talk to Kimberly’s mom, Janel. She’s not happy about the life her daughter’s been living, and expresses concern about her well-being. She also reveals that Kimberly’s dad died when she was young, and she doesn’t have any siblings, or other extended family. Seems it’s pretty much just been Kimberly and her mom against the world all this time. And as Garcia soon discovers, the men in Kimberly’s family all tended to die young. Odd.

“Sick bastard made a snuff film.”

While all this is going on, Reid is busy examining some videotapes that had been sent to the local police. These tapes contain footage of the poor men being mercilessly tortured, and they’re pretty gruesome, if the reactions of everyone watching are anything to go by. The local officers are puzzled about the means by which the tapes were sent - they were recorded on cassette, of all things. What this means about their unsub, they’re still not entirely sure, but in the meantime, Reid does manage to get a few audio and visual clues as to where this warehouse is.

As the team arrives to investigate the warehouse, things get even creepier and more surprising. The unsub, upon seeing the team show up, decides to destroy and set fire to the entire place, causing just enough of a distraction for them to escape. In the aftermath of the fire, the team finds a symbol related to the Chaldean Mafia, indicating Matt’s initial assumption is right, and they also discover a woman’s skull in the backyard as well. It’s soon revealed that the skull belongs to a woman named Cynthia, and that she’s apparently been dead for quite some time. This discovery comes on the heels of the recent murder of a third man named Philip. What initially looked like a relatively simple string of murders targeting men who visited escorts is becoming an increasingly complex mystery with each passing moment, as the victim type continues to change and shift.

That becomes even more apparent when the unsub soon targets Janel and Kimberly themselves, managing to overpower and get past the protective detail before kidnapping them. It’s at this point we finally see who our unsub is, and it turns out it’s a man – and one Janel and Kimberly are apparently familiar with, if the man’s chilling “Welcome home” greeting to them is any indication.

Both women attempt to placate this guy, but he doesn’t seem all that interested in listening to them. At least, not at first. Soon, though, he starts to get emotional, apologizing to Janel for abandoning her. Janel doesn’t seem to like where this conversation’s going and tries to stop it, but the cat slips out of the bag anyway. Kimberly soon learns the same thing the team recently discovered: Janel isn’t her mom. She’s her aunt. And the unsub, whose name is Gabriel, is Kimberly’s father. Quite a couple big bombshells to drop at a time like this, no? Gabriel soon reveals that his main reason for his killing spree is a chance to “fix everything”. Once he’s gotten rid of the men who took advantage of his sweet, innocent daughter, he can try and work on starting a new life with Kimberly. Second chances are all well and good, but in this particular case, yeah, thinking that’s gonna be a hard sell for her, buddy.

Janel soon confirms Gabriel’s story, and when she goes to talk to him, Kimberly attempts to escape. A scuffle occurs, during which Janel stabs Gabriel in the back, and while he’s distracted with the knife, Kimberly flees. Thankfully, before Gabriel can off Janel for good and chase after his daughter, the team arrives, pulling Kimberly and Janel to safety. Gabriel attempts his own escape, but after a brief but intense wrestling match between him and Matt, Matt gains the upper hand and takes him in.

This of course begs the question: if Janel was really Kimberly’s aunt, then what happened to her mother? Well, remember poor Cynthia and her skull? Yep. There’s your answer. After their daughter was born back in 1996, Cynthia obviously didn’t want Gabriel's mafia lifestyle to impact their child, so she’d planned on leaving him. What’s more, she also threatened to alert the authorities to his crimes. Gabriel couldn’t have that, so he killed Cynthia and then turned Kimberly over to his sister, Janel, allowing her to raise the girl. Janel was so disturbed by her brother’s criminal history that she decided to keep all of this a secret from Kimberly for years in an attempt to protect her.

Unfortunately, for all Gabriel’s attempts to stay out of prison, he did wind up serving some time for his crimes. After being released, he attempted to turn over a new leaf and tried to reconnect with Kimberly. Once he found out what she was doing for a living, however, he couldn’t help sliding back into his old criminal ways in his own twisted attempt to protect her, and as a result, a lot of men wound up paying the ultimate price.

“You’re not like him.”

Kimberly is understandably shaken by the events of the case and all the new information she’s learned, to the point where she expresses regret to Matt that he didn’t kill her father. So much for any hope of a family reunion, then. She does, however, point out that Matt reminded her that good men do exist out there, and is bolstered by his kind and supportive words about herself and her aunt.

Kudos to the show for giving us an unpredictable case this go-round. When I first saw the promos and sneak peeks for it, and even while observing Kimberly and Janel’s behavior throughout early on, I’d initially assumed our unsub would be one of those women. Maybe somebody in this organization had had enough of some shady stuff that had been going down, be it within the organization itself or with the men the women met up with, and wanted to fight back. Maybe Janel was a bitter woman whose husband had left her for, or had an affair with, a prostitute, and she wanted to destroy that system from within. Then when Garcia mentioned the fact that the men in Kimberly’s family died young, I started wondering if this wasn’t some sort of family affair. Perhaps Janel and Kimberly were a criminal duo.

Honestly, I still kind of wish the episode had gone with that kind of premise, because I think it could’ve been a rather interesting route to go, and because I feel like the story about the men in Kimberly’s family dying young was a tantalizing tidbit that was ultimately left danging when it should’ve been explored further. That said, I do appreciate that Gabriel’s motive wasn’t as clear-cut as one would initially think. The mafia aspect, while perhaps adding a little too much clutter to an already complex case, certainly provided a powerful motive for some of his murders, as well as a plausible explanation for how he became such an effective killing machine.

I particularly liked the push and pull between Gabriel wanting to redeem himself and start anew with his daughter and his sister and being lured back into his old criminal ways. I wish the show had explored that struggle a little more, instead of waiting until late in the episode to bring it up, especially given how he didn’t seem to show much remorse when he was holding Janel and Kimberly captive. At the same time, though, it was clear that Gabriel was a very broken and confused man, and I do think those aspects of his personality and mindset did come through well enough during his family confrontation, to where you could see his struggle to some degree.

Kimberly and Janel made for intriguing characters, too. Even when Kimberly did try and come on all alluring while talking with Matt, it came off more as her just falling back on her usual means of communicating with men. I thought that was a good, subtle way to show just how much this job has affected her. And considering her comfort in knowing that Matt was a good, trustworthy man, it was clear some of her behavior towards him had been a test, too. I like that she got to see an example of a decent man in action.

And I felt for poor Janel, with the thought of just how many secrets she was carrying on her shoulders for so long. I like that her protectiveness wasn’t so overt, that for the most part, it came out in very realistic, quiet ways. That helped make the moment when she tried to stab Gabriel all the more shocking and powerful. Janel definitely came off as one of those “beware the quiet ones” sorts. I liked seeing both women doing what they could to fight back, and that they were both savvy and had strong self-preservation instincts, both in regards to the case and their lives in general.

My biggest gripes were these four aspects:

1) Could’ve done without Gabriel’s whole “this is why I’m doing what I do” speech towards the end. I get that that was supposed to be part of what unsubs like him do, but it just came off way too much like one of those “bad guy stops to give a speech to the good guy about their plans” moments you see in movies. I think the reveal might’ve come off more intimidating and unsettling if he’d forced Janel to be the one to confess everything to Kimberly, and hadn’t said a word himself.

2) Much as I liked seeing Matt’s physical abilities when taking Gabriel down in that alleyway, ummm...where, exactly, was his backup? Given all the team’s been through lately, you’d think that nobody would be going anywhere without at least one person tagging along. Matt should’ve had somebody behind him the whole time.

3) Gabriel pulling the knife out of his back felt a little “super strength”-y, no? Maybe if he hadn’t spent so much time yammering on about why he was killing people to Janel and Kimberly, he could’ve avoided being stabbed in the first place.

4) Why, exactly, was the episode called “Blue Angel”? Nothing in the episode gave a nod to it, except for the Blue Siren website, but even then, there was no indication that it had any angelic undertones. I’m presuming the “angel” part could’ve been referring to Kimberly, given her family’s concerns about somebody as innocent as her getting caught up in this sleazy business, but even then, it feels a bit of a stretch, so...yeah. Go figure.

Those issues aside, though, I think this case generally worked pretty well overall. Everyone played a role of some sort in it, the variety of potential suspects added to the mystery and suspense, and we got to sympathize with the victims along the way. Even the men who visited the website weren’t necessarily evil bad guys (with the exception, perhaps, of Curtis, ‘cause of the whole “cheating on his wife” thing, but yeah). This is how I want to see the cases of the week going forward – not so over the top that they become ridiculous, but with just enough zigzags throughout to keep us guessing and wondering how it will all play out.

Meanwhile, back at Quantico:

Not a whole lot to report on here, honestly. Reid talked to Garcia and Luke about possible ideas of things to discuss in his upcoming seminars, and we got brief peeks at Matt’s home life. “Beyond Borders” viewers know that Matt's married and has a gaggle full of kids, and sure enough, we got to see the whole brood this episode. The kids don’t show up until the end, when they all crowd into bed with their parents, but it was a cute scene nonetheless.

And I liked what we saw of Matt’s wife, too. Her name is Kristy, and she seems pretty darn happy with her husband’s new job. When Matt was with the International Response Team, he was away a lot, but apparently, now that he’s at the BAU, he has better hours and more time at home with his family. Which is interesting, considering how often this team seems to be away from home, and how common an issue this job was for other team members’ relationships and families over the years. I suppose, though, it’s easier to deal with the separation that comes from being in another part of the U.S. as opposed to being in another part of the world altogether.

We also learned that nearly ten years into their marriage, Matt and Kristy are still as lovey-dovey as ever, to the point where he managed to tempt her back to bed for a little morning fun before work. I hope the show continues to let this marriage last. The guys on the team generally haven’t had much luck in the romance department, after all – either their wives or girlfriends died, or in the case of Stephen, he was the one to be killed off. Morgan was the only male team member to go off to a happy life with Savannah. So it’d be nice to have Matt and Kristy’s relationship play out as well as Morgan’s did. Buck the trend a little more.

As for Reid, I enjoyed seeing him discussing his seminars. He was excited about them in a way that showed the old Reid spark was back (or at least, on its way back), and we also got to learn about an interesting fallacy known as “the Linda problem” in the process. Long story short, it’s a conjunction fallacy that deals with people’s assumptions that two separate events may be connected, when it’s just as probable, if not more so, that they happened completely independent of each other. It’s just the sort of problem that I could see Reid being interested in, and what made it all the more fun was that Garcia was as knowledgeable about it as he was, and that they got to chat about it a bit. Always fun to be reminded of just how much Reid and Garcia have in common.

It was nice to see Luke showing interest in their discussion as well, even if he agrees with Garcia that it might be a bit over most agents’ heads. I personally think it’d be a perfect topic to cover, given that the conjunction fallacy is something that can and has come up in this line of work before. Whether Reid does wind up discussing “the Linda problem” in his seminars or not, I hope we get more glimpses at what he wants to teach, and eventually, what he does decide to teach. It’s just good to see Reid acting like himself again, and having something to look forward to to boot.

So that’s that. Another week, another normal outing. How long this trend will continue to last, I don’t know, but for now, I’m fine with the peace and quiet.

What did you think of the episode? Did the case play out as you’d predicted, or did it provide some surprises along the way? Did you enjoy the glimpse into Matt’s home life? Do you have any fun ideas regarding topics for Reid to cover in his seminars? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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