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Criminal Minds - Wheels Up - Review: “Moving On”

Welcome back, CM fandom!

Yes, it’s fall, and that means a brand new season of stories about our favorite criminal profilers. It’s the thirteenth season, too, and fittingly, the season kicks off in truly unlucky fashion for the BAU as a result. The season premiere picks up on the very same evening as the events of last season’s finale, and in this episode alone, the team has to deal with yet another round of personnel changes, one of their own in life-threatening peril, another teammate struggling with emotional and mental issues brought on by the frightening ordeal they went through last season, and a tragic loss. Yeah. Seems all that’s missing from that list is the kitchen sink.

Fortunately, even amidst all this turmoil and upheaval, the team does get a couple positive moments and pieces of news at various points, and a long-running threat is finally dealt with once and for all. So all is not entirely lost, which is good, because these guys could use some hope and optimism going forward.

So let’s settle in and discuss the events of “Wheels Up”, both good and bad, and see if we can figure out what the aftermath means for the team going forward this year.

The Case:

“They’re gone. They’re all gone.”

As is custom with this show’s multi-episode storylines, we waste no time in picking up where the end of “Red Light” left off. Now that the team has been involved in a horrific car accident, Garcia has completely lost the signal connecting her to them. Needless to say, she is instantly freaking out, and as she desperately tries to get in touch with her friends, she also calls for help. The first person to arrive is Matt Simmons, of the recently canceled “Beyond Borders” spinoff, and he drives her straight out to the scene of the accident.

Any hopes Garcia had that her friends would be all right are quickly dashed as she and Matt run to tend to her friends. The only one who’s escaped unscathed is Luke, otherwise, it’s a very chaotic, terrifying scene. Rossi’s up and moving, but has an injured leg. JJ can’t see and has bits of broken glass all over her head. Tara’s lying on the ground, bleeding. And Stephen sadly did not survive the crash (dying of whiplash), much to Garcia’s distress. Luke does his best to try and comfort her at the sight of her deceased teammate, but there’s little time to mourn, as they have to focus on helping the others.

Once everyone arrives at the hospital, they’re greeted by a familiar face: Reid. He’d left his home and any hope of a restful evening with his mom to come check on and help his friends, and it doesn’t take him long to jump right into the action. Despite being laid up in a hospital bed, Rossi’s working to see to it that Reid is officially reinstated, because he specifically wants Reid and Luke (the “ass clowns”, as he amusingly refers to them) to find a pair of keys and go to Rossi’s office and look in a drawer for a pair of Chicago Bears season tickets.

As confusing as the initial string of instructions sounds, Luke and Reid quickly realize this is clearly code for something related to this case, and soon after, they discover what Rossi was directing them to: a drawer full of files containing all the information Stephen had been compiling about Scratch up to that point. Emily wanted to have a paper copy on hand in order to avoid Scratch hacking in and messing with or attempting to destroy the information. Matt Simmons also kept his own backup copy, as Emily felt having a trusted person outside the team in the loop would be another way to protect the information. Pretty clever move.

Matt and Garcia take the information from those files, along with Reid’s analysis of where Scratch might’ve gone to get more drugs (remember, drugging people is part of his M.O.), and work on trying to narrow down and track Scratch’s potential movements from there on out. Garcia also spends much of the episode studying Scratch’s hacking habits, both to try and hide the team’s phones from any attempts by Scratch to listen in to conversations (hence Rossi’s code about the Chicago Bears) as well as to track any possible signals Scratch sends out.

Reid eventually manages to figure out that around the time of his own Mexico adventure last year, Scratch had been down in Honduras to get more of his drugs. He’d then brought those drugs back to D.C., where he’d practice and experiment with them on people in the area. Matt and Garcia find the only place in the D.C. area where people are using those drugs, and it’s a very strange, cult-y, faux New Age-y type of church. Inside the church there’s a group of screens, and from there, Garcia’s able to figure out that Scratch is hiding out at a nearby warehouse.

So to recap: Stephen’s dead, Rossi, JJ, and Tara are in the hospital, and Luke, Matt, Reid, and Garcia are working the case and getting warmer in their hunt for Mr. Scratch. That leaves one team member yet unaccounted for: Emily Prentiss. Where is she while all this is going on?


“I’ve been in enough hospitals. I know how they sound, how they smell.”

Turns out she’s being held captive by Mr. Scratch in what looks to be a makeshift hospital room in that very warehouse. As we later learn, he’d dosed her at the scene of the SUV accident before kidnapping her. Scratch immediately informs Emily of Stephen’s death, and as Emily realizes that she has a broken arm and broken legs, Scratch then reveals a horrifying ‘Saw’-like contraption holding said broken legs in place. Yeesh.

He proceeds to spend much of the episode taunting and torturing Emily repeatedly – leaving her body in a state of burning pain, teasing her with the threat of death (to the point where she actually briefly flatlines at one point), and threatening to physically attack her with various sharp and pointy medical instruments. In between the torture, Emily seems to get a brief bit of respite from a strange yet seemingly nice man comes in to tend to Emily...but he’s too scared of what Scratch might do to him or his own family to help her escape.

So why is Scratch doing all of this to Emily? Because he wants her...to tell him where Hotch is.

Ohhhhhh, crap. Cue me muttering a string of “No”s at the TV at this point. To make things even more ominous, Scratch points out, Hotch isn’t dead...yet.

And why does he think Emily knows Hotch’s whereabouts? Because he discovered a string of texts Emily had exchanged with a man with the initials “AH” in recent months, in which they discussed plans to track and nab Scratch. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that “AH” is Aaron Hotchner’s initials, and since Scratch still has some major unfinished business with Hotch, naturally, he wants to find him and have a proper showdown with the man at long last. So the trade-off is clear: Scratch will give Emily morphine for the pain if she spills her guts.

Thing is, Scratch apparently doesn’t know Emily all that well, because she’s been one step ahead of him the whole time. Reid sees the texts, too, and realizes this can’t actually be Hotch’s work – he wouldn’t put himself at open risk like that, and Emily wouldn’t make those sorts of conversations so easy, either (remember, she’s got a spy history. She knows how to cover her tracks). So what’s the story? Turns out Emily and Stephen worked together, using his experience in counterintelligence to help fake the texts, in the hopes that Scratch would see them and be lured out. Evidently, that plan worked. Unfortunately, as Emily is now realizing, it also kind of horribly backfired on her and her team in the process.

She’s not deterred, however. Despite the pain Scratch continues to put Emily through, she refuses to give up Hotch’s hideout location. She lays out the reason she thinks Scratch, who never used to target children before, turned his focus to Jack last year. Jack is now the same age Scratch was when he lost his own dad years before, and he wants Jack and Hotch to feel the same sort of pain he’d felt when his family was destroyed. It’s at this point we get the first of a few intriguing references to Emily’s past ordeal with Doyle, as she explains, in detail, why she won’t squeal on Hotch and Jack, and I just need to quote her mini-speech in full here, because seriously, it was so awesome:

“I’ve died before protecting a child. That was a child I barely knew. But Jack? I love Jack. I’ve watched Jack grow up. I will not betray him or his father.”

I mentally cheered at that, not gonna lie.

Anywho, Emily continues to hold out even as Scratch forces her to technically “die” once more, leading her to have a moment where she sees (and jumps into) her gravestone, complete with both her birth and “death” dates from both the Doyle days and the current date and year. So basically Emily’s “died” and come back to life twice now, which makes me think she’s secretly a cat.

Lucky for her, her experience with near-death moments allows her a chance to properly reassess her current situation, since she already knows exactly what actual death feels like. That’s when she realizes that a lot of what she sees in that room – the medical instruments, the broken bones, that freaky leg contraption, even that strange, seemingly nice man – are nothing more than one of Scratch’s typically frightening hallucinations. When he returns to ask her once more where Hotch and Jack are, she bites his ear HARD, and, while he’s distracted, manages to escape. Seriously, Scratch really picked the wrong woman to mess with.

By this point, the rest of the non-injured team members have arrived at the warehouse, and an intense chase ensues, initially between Scratch, Emily, and an FBI-vest wearing, gun-wielding Reid. Luke and Matt soon join the fray, however, and the whole thing culminates with Scratch dangling off the side of the rooftop, with Luke looking down at him. Scratch takes the decision of whether or not the team lets him live out of their hands, however, and falls to his death. At long last, it’s all over. Mr. Scratch is no longer a threat to the BAU.

Seems a bit of an anti-climactic wrap up, doesn’t it? All last summer, I read so many comments online from people who were eager to see one (or more) of the team take Scratch out themselves, and I won’t lie, I was excited by that idea, too.

But that’s not who these guys are. Yes, they have their personal moments of wanting revenge, but at the end of the day, they only ever kill when they absolutely have no other option and need to protect themselves and others. They don’t get a thrill out of killing unsubs. So as tempted as they no doubt were to off him themselves, at the end of the day, their not killing him is true to form.

And in Reid’s case, it’s especially fitting he didn’t kill Scratch – for one thing, he’d just beat a murder rap. Probably not a good idea for him to immediately go out and kill somebody for real, no matter how justified it would’ve been. For another, he’s the one who always feels especially guilty about killing unsubs (Dowd, Hankel), and considering his current mental and emotional state, the last thing he needs is more guilt piling on. Besides that, given how much Scratch liked to be in control, it makes sense he’d want that to extend to how he died, too. So all in all, I’m not too bothered by how he went out. Frankly, at this point, I’m just glad he’s gone, period.

I also think the quiet, uneventful death was a nice contrast to and comedown from the intense warehouse chase, a scene I greatly enjoyed. It felt slightly unpredictable, the darkness made things tense, and it kept with the frantic pace of the episode. Scratch’s mentions of Hotch throughout the episode just further added to the overall tension.

Ultimately, though, I think my favorite part of the showdown with Scratch was all the references to Emily’s past with Doyle. The Declan reference was an especially poignant touch, and the idea of her using her past near-death experience to figure out what was really going on was clever. I kind of wish they’d made some reference to her previous experience with car crashes, too, as it would’ve been interesting to tie that in somehow (maybe Scratch could’ve used that as a means to taunt her), but perhaps that would’ve been one past reference too many.

As for non-Scratch related matters, I felt Matt’s integration into the team was well-handled. Those of you who watched “Beyond Borders” were already familiar with him (as were those who saw him as a guest star in a couple episodes of the original series), so there was no need for a “getting to know you” backstory moment. Matt was able to jump right into the fray and help keep everyone else steady and focused, and he interacted seamlessly with the rest of the team. I still think eight team members is an awful lot to juggle, but Matt fits in perfectly, and I like him as a character, so I’m looking forward to seeing him work with the BAU.

There’s a few lingering questions to mull over, though. Scratch wasn’t the only threat to the team – you’ll recall that we learned at the end of last season that Cat Adams had been working with somebody in the FBI to target Reid, and by extension, the team. Whatever happened to that mole? Were they working with Scratch, too? Did the team catch them? Will they pop up as a whole new threat down the line? And now that Scratch is gone, does that mean Cat’s not a lingering threat anymore, either, since she was trying to mimic him? Or will she be emboldened to try some new scheme yet again?

For the most part, though, I think this episode did a good job of wrapping up the Scratch storyline, especially considering they had to juggle the case against a new round of team transitions, sendoffs, and the characters’ personal turmoils.

Meanwhile, back at Quantico:

Mr. Scratch may be gone, but the team is still left to deal with the trauma he’s inflicted upon them. Luke and JJ accompany Stephen’s wife Monica to the morgue, providing comfort as she identifies his body and says goodbye to him. Later on, at Stephen’s funeral, Emily is clearly feeling immense guilt about not being able to protect him on the job, to the point where she apologizes to Monica. Thankfully, Monica makes it clear that she doesn’t hold Emily or the team accountable for Stephen’s death, that she blames Scratch and Scratch alone.

“If Emily dies because I was too slow, I’ll be throwing a lot more than books.”

And then there’s Reid. He spent much of the episode visibly agitated and stressed, panic-stricken over Emily, worrying about his injured friends, and reeling from Stephen’s death. And that’s all on top of the stress he’s still working through over his ordeal from last season. He goes so far as to throw a book at the wall in frustration, much to Garcia’s concern, has trouble concentrating on the case, keeps rubbing at his eyes, and is in a rather bloodthirsty mood, telling Luke point blank that he will kill Scratch if he sees him.

Luke notes that Reid is suffering from PTSS, or post-traumatic stress syndrome. It’s different from PTSD, because, as Luke notes, what Reid’s dealing with reads more like an injury, not a disorder. Emily also does her part later on to keep Reid from following through with killing Scratch, telling him to stay with her in the warehouse because, as she says, “I need someone I know is real”. Aw.

“The only way I was able to stay sane was by repeating a mantra. Two words. You know what those two words were?”

Things aren’t all bleak, though. After all the craziness dies down, the team gathers together once more in the conference room, where Emily gets a chance to thank Matt for his help and offer him the opportunity to join the team full-time, now that the IRT is no longer a thing. She and the rest of the team then go around the table and repeat the mantra that had kept Emily going: “Wheels up.” Matt joins in the rallying cry, indicating his desire to join the team, and Reid, after a moment, also joins in, indicating his official return to the team.

On a slightly less dramatic note, we also got a sweet moment at the hospital between JJ and Will, as Will attempts to comfort JJ. She’s feeling her own guilt over Stephen’s death, since he’d let her take the front seat in the SUV instead of sitting in the back. That leads her and Will to discuss their “opt out” plan of a life together outside the BAU (he would run a breakfast place, she would be a full-time mom). Will then reminded JJ of how long they’ve been committed to each other – five years married, ten years as a couple – and expressed his open support for whatever decision JJ made. To the surprise of nobody, JJ agreed to stay with the team.

The happiest outcome in the episode, meanwhile, is reserved for Hotch and Jack. Now that Scratch is gone, the Hotchners can leave Witness Protection! Hooray! Unfortunately, Hotch has no plans to return to the team, but it’s for a good reason this time. He wants to focus on spending more time with Jack, and letting the two of them finally have a quiet, happy, uneventful life together at long last.

Quite a lot of personal changes and storylines setting up here, huh? Let’s go down the list and discuss the show’s handling of them:

I’ll say right off the bat that I hate that Stephen Walker had to be killed off. I don’t blame the show itself for his being let go, obviously – their hands were tied as the result of CBS’ decision-making. But even so, I wish the show had found another way to write him out. They’ve already dealt with so much loss over the years (Stephen’s funeral makes how many the team’s been to now?), and the show’s been so good at avoiding killing off active team members thus far. So it would’ve been nice to keep that pattern going, and not add to the stress the team was already dealing with.

That being said, however, I think the way the show handled Stephen’s death in and of itself was fairly well done. They acknowledged his contributions to the team (I liked the whole thing of him crafting that ruse with the texts.), and allowed us to see the team mourning and paying their respects to him. And I appreciate the show bringing his family in, too, and letting them have a moment. My heart absolutely broke for Monica throughout, especially during the scene in the morgue – her collapsing in tears got me all choked up. And I liked the moment between Monica and Emily at the funeral. I think they both needed that talk, and I’m glad they got it.

I was genuinely, and pleasantly, surprised by the mentions of Hotch this episode. After Emily took over the team last year, I thought that might be the last we’d hear of him, but I’m glad the show did bring him up, and gave him a properly happy exit at long last. Yes, it might seem a little out of character for a workaholic like Hotch to refuse to return to work, but honestly, after everything he and his son have been through, I think the decision makes sense. Whether we hear mention of Hotch again or not going forward, who knows, but I’m thankful to the show for giving him and his son some much needed closure and peace. The image of Hotch and Jack hanging out together and having fun is enough to put a smile on my face.

And speaking of attitudes changing, I really appreciated Will’s words to JJ at the hospital. For years, her devotion to the job had been a source of conflict between the two of them, with Will constantly suggesting JJ focus on being home more so that their sons can be guaranteed to have their mom around, so it was nice to see that they’ve managed to work through that issue with time, and see Will giving her the support and acceptance she needed to carry on.

Of course, the biggest stories going forward will be Emily’s struggle to move on from her captivity and torture, and Reid’s struggle to deal with his PTSS. I liked how they touched on both aspects here, with Emily’s guilt over losing Stephen and Reid’s quick temper and general anxiety, and I really hope the show continues to play off of and explore those issues throughout the season, both separately and together. I’ve already mentioned some of the ways I want to see the show touch on that, but this episode provided a few more avenues worth exploring, too. Stephen’s not the first team member Emily’s lost on the job, so will that loss impact the decisions she makes when sending the BAU out into the field in the future?

And on a personal level, will Emily be more strict with Reid on the job, knowing full well the kinds of risks he can take and the things he’s capable of? Could this lead to them butting heads from time to time, especially given Reid’s temperamental attitude right now? I adore the friendship Emily and Reid share, and I’m all for more sweet moments between them where possible, but I also think the potential conflicts their respective experiences might bring up could be very interesting to explore.

For now, though, we can rejoice in the good things that came out of this episode. It was wonderful to see everyone back together again and working as a true team, and it’s nice to start off a season without a huge threat looming over the team’s heads. I look forward to seeing how they heal and move forward, as well as help each other through any other struggles, personal and professional, they’ll face along the way. And, as always, I also look forward to discussing whatever will come this season with all of you.

What did you think of this episode? Were you satisfied with the way Scratch went out, or did it leave you wanting? Did the way they wrote out Stephen work for you? Are you happy with the way 6they wrapped up things with Hotch (and was the show’s mention of him a surprise)? How do you feel about Matt Simmons joining the team? What parts of the episode did you most enjoy, or dislike? What do you think will happen with Emily and Reid in particular going forward? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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