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Criminal Minds - Dust and Bones - Review: “Sibling Rivalry”

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Hoping none of the viewers out there have a snake phobia of any sort, because otherwise, this week’s episode will not be a pleasant one for you to watch, or read about. Up to now we’ve had relatively typical cases and unsubs, but all that changed with this episode. The unsub’s motives were typical, but their method of attack? Not so much.

Luckily, unlike some of the more outlandish unsubs of last season, this one stayed just this side of loopy. Their motivations kept the otherwise odd case grounded in reality, and the unsub proved to be rather sympathetic as well, a theme the show’s been doing fairly well with overall this season.

And for the viewers who felt the case was just too creepy and weird, luckily, the show balanced that out with a nice side story involving Luke, which managed to bring a bit of attention to an important issue as well as give us a little more welcome development of his character.

The Case:

The show wastes no time in throwing us into this creepy scenario, starting off on quite the strange, unsettling note. A young woman, who we later learn is named Liz, jolts awake in her car due to her phone ringing. As she tries to find it, she takes stock of her surroundings. There’s a blank white theater-esque mask sitting in the passenger seat next to her, and since we’re looking through her eyes at points, things seem to be a bit disoriented and hazy. Liz answers her phone, but the call only adds to her growing confusion and anxiety. It’s her co-worker calling, and he’s panicked – she’s missed work, and he’s been trying to get in touch with her, to find out where she is.

There’s just one problem, though: Liz doesn’t exactly know where she is, either. She gets out of her car to see if she can name her street, and she realizes she’s downtown, but that’s all the more she knows. She’s also woozy and stumbling down the sidewalk, trying to figure out how she got downtown in the first place...and when she looks in a store window, she sees big red scratches all over the right side of her face, as though somebody had tried to cut her. Her panic increases, and she promptly faints.

“What’s that saying? ‘Death by a thousand cuts?’”

A frightening start to one’s day, to be sure. Unfortunately, Liz isn’t the first one to experience this terrifying scenario. Another woman, Hannah, had a similar experience recently as well. In her case, she’d been out having lunch with a friend, and that was the last thing she could remember, before waking up in her car. If there’s one bit of good news in these bizarre crimes, however, it’s that both women managed to survive their ordeals.

Hannah and Liz’s weird experiences, and their similar ages, are the only thing tying them together; they don’t have anything in common otherwise, nor do they know each other. But the slight differences in how they were attacked, and how their faces were cut, do allow the team to realize their unsub is working on perfecting their technique. And since both women are alive, the team’s hoping that maybe by talking to them, they can figure out some kind of connection that links them to the unsub before they can strike again.

It doesn’t take long for us to get our first glimpse of the unsub, either, and our introduction further proves just how freaky this case is going to be. They’re in some creepy-looking building, there’s sharp instruments everywhere, blood galore being cleaned off of said instruments, and a thing full of mice, one of which the unsub looks to be feeding to somebody. Our unsub apparently has a weird-looking green eye, too, one that’s almost snake-like in nature, which...okay, then. I have to say, Tara got off lucky not being with the team on this case. Course, considering she’s busy down in Bridgewater helping out with the upcoming Floyd Ferrell criminal case, sounds like she’s traded one creepy unsub for another.

Anywho, so once the team arrives in Austin, Texas, Luke and Matt head out to the police station, ready to do an interview with Hannah. The police inform them they’re trying to look up where the mask was brought in the hopes of maybe tying it to a specific customer, and checked for prints in the victims’ cars, but they couldn’t find anything of note. Reid and JJ, meanwhile, head out to the hospital to interview Liz. Reid’s examination of her medical file allows him to theorize the women may have been bit by something that incapacitated them. He asks for Liz’s blood to be tested by rattling off an impressive array of acronyms without tripping over his words, which was pretty amazing and awesome to watch, and the doctor complies.

Reid’s theory further gains some credence when Rossi and Emily investigate Liz’s car, and they discover that she’d gotten sick at some point while left inside. There’s no trace of drugs or alcohol in her system, so her throwing up was likely the result of her panic, and whatever bit her, making her ill. Given that both Liz and Hannah woke up in their cars, it’s easy to assume the unsub uses their vehicles as some sort of ruse to overpower them, lying in wait to nab them when they’re alone and unprotected.

Hannah’s meeting with Luke and Matt builds on the team’s theories as well. Thanks to a cognitive interview, she’s able to remember quite a bit of her ordeal, and according to her, she remembers returning to her car to head back to work after her lunch date. She also recalls that it was a hot day, so she left the door open for a few moments in an attempt to let the stuffy warm air out of the car, and then she’d rolled down her window a crack as well. Hannah claims she then went to turn on the radio, but turned it back off upon hearing a weird hissing noise nearby.

Initially, she assumed the noise was due to the radiator, and went to start up her car. When she turned to back out, however, that’s when she saw it. A snake, lurking in the backseat. It bit her, and that’s the end of any memories up to her waking up in her car later on. Creepy, huh? That information proves quite helpful, though, as Liz’s blood test results confirm she too was bit by a snake. Reid goes into a wonderfully nerdy explanation of the specific types of snakes this unsub may be using at this point, believing that the unsub’s likely using snakes that are venomous yet not necessarily deadly, aren’t native to North America, and which one would need a permit to own in the first place. In short, our unsub REALLY likes their snakes.

While Hannah shares her story with Luke and Matt, we see her recollection of events juxtaposed against another new victim named Tricia, who winds up going through the exact same horror the other two women experienced. The scary scenes don’t end there, either. Later on, we see Tricia being held captive somewhere, and things get even more disturbing when the unsub starts preparing to split Tricia’s tongue in half. Like, the way a snake’s tongue is split in half, a process known as forking. No lie, I actually flinched and turned away during this scene, because ICK.

Fortunately, just like with Liz and Hannah, Tricia is soon found alive and brought to the hospital. Reid and JJ go out to interview her, but because of her tongue deformity, she’s left to write out her answers to their questions. Her notes read as follows: “Tied down. Dizzy. Like a nightmare.” She also notes that her attacker made a point of saying, “We are now the same.” The reason for that comment is the same reason for why Liz can’t talk: the unsub’s tongue was forked as well. Yeesh. Forget about loving snakes, this unsub’s got a full on obsession with them.

So clearly this unsub enjoys messing with their victims’ looks, to the point of literally trying to turn them into snakes. Could they be using the symbolism of duplicity and dishonesty that comes with snakes as a means to call these women out for who they really are (or who the unsub thinks they are)? Is this an issue of jealousy and insecurity? Do they just personally enjoy messing up people’s faces for the heck of it? There's all kinds of possible motives here. Since this unsub’s M.O. also utilizes the sorts of things one would see in the more extreme areas of the body modification world, however, Garcia does a bit of sleuthing to see if their unsub has any connections to or works in that community.

And voila, she finds somebody, a guy by the name of Ryan. He doesn’t exactly make the greatest first impression on the team, either, as his initial instinct is to run upon seeing Matt, Rossi, and JJ show up flashing a badge. But once they wrangle him and bring him in for an interview, he explains that he ran because of some past offenses and a warrant, and feared the team was there to arrest him for those. When Matt and JJ show him photos of the three women, he vehemently denies kidnapping or torturing any of them. He seems pretty defiant about his innocence, but Matt and JJ still feel he knows more than he’s letting on somewhere.

While Matt and JJ are busy with Ryan, Reid focuses on narrowing down the unsub’s comfort zone, and it’s there he finds another notable connection. All three victims were left near properties that are owned by a real estate agent in the area. The team looks up the agent, and it’s a woman named Lara. She’s divorced with two daughters, and seems pretty innocuous, but the use of her properties for dump sites tells the team she’s connected somehow. Up to now, the team had been assuming their unsub was a man, but considering the personal nature of the attacks, the lack of sexual assault, as well as the fact that women tend to be more resentful of and judgmental towards other women’s appearance, they’re starting to wonder if their unsub is actually a female. Could Lara be the person they’re looking for? If not, how might she be connected to the case?

Matt and JJ return to interview Ryan, and show him photos of Lara’s daughters. To their surprise, he reveals that he does know one of them personally. Her name is Desi, and she looks like your typical clean-cut girl in the photo Ryan sees. But Ryan notes that she doesn’t look like that anymore, and indeed, when we first see her in person, the change in her appearance is quite dramatic. Tattoos all over, goth makeup, general darker, edgier clothing, multiple ear piercings, and a clearly aggressive, violent demeanor.

As for the other daughter? Her name is Tina, and if you guessed that she’s the next victim, ding, ding, you win the prize! Yes, it turns out that Desi’s the unsub, and she’s looking to seek revenge, and not just on her sister. Lara gets a phone call at work alerting her to the fact Tina’s in danger, and when she goes to find her, Desi takes her hostage, too.

Of course, the obvious question now is, why does Desi have such a vendetta against her own family? Well, if what we learn about Desi’s childhood is any indication, she frankly has a lot of reason to be bitter. Lara had Desi when she was only fifteen years old, and was forced by child services to take parenting classes after Desi made accusations of neglect against her as a little girl. According to Desi, she was relegated to being made to sit alone in a shed in the backyard on a daily basis, and had to deal with severe neglect and abuse in general from her mother. Lara even went so far as to tell her, to her face, that she was ugly, and she wished she’d never been born. Yeouch. Horrid words indeed. Desi soon sought comfort in the snakes that roamed the shed she would stay in, and they became her companions of sorts. So that explains the snake obsession.

To add insult to injury, Desi was further cast aside when, ten years later, Lara gave birth to Tina, and turned all her focus on raising her right, learning from her mistakes with her first daughter. The building family resentment came to a head a couple weeks back, when Lara had been named to a prestigious position in her company. She credited Tina for supporting her and being part of her life, but there was not one mention of Desi anywhere. And so began the attacks on the women.

Despite the fraught relationship between mother and daughter, Lara had recently attempted to make amends, even going so far as to buy Desi’s failed business to help her get back on her feet. She also tries to apologize to Desi specifically for all she’d done to her, claiming she’ll make things right if Desi just lets her and Tina go. But it’s too late. The damage has been done. Just as Desi’s about to experiment on her mother, however, the team arrives to try and talk her down. Desi’s not having any of that, though. She knocks over a crate full of snakes, releasing them into the building, and makes a break for it. Matt’s waiting for her when she comes outside, and he tries once more to get her to surrender peacefully. She refuses, and as she attempts to attack Matt, he shoots her dead. A tragic end to a tragic life.

So yeah. This was an unusual method for a case, to be sure. In some respects, it reminded me of the creepy crawly bugs from “The Itch” a few seasons ago (a case which hit on my personal phobia: spiders). Just like with “The Itch”, the unsub used an animal to torture those who they felt had wronged or mistreated them. I do think the episode did well at explaining Desi’s interest in snakes, and I thought using them to help nab her victims was a creative touch, as was the idea of being inspired to warp victims to turn them into animals. Kind of an unintentionally literal take on the idea of unsubs using animal-like, predatory behavior. The quirky nature of Austin also allowed Desi to blend in easier, which was a perfect way to explain why she didn’t stick out as suspicious at first.

It was also fairly easy to sympathize with Desi, despite her incredibly warped crime spree. The abuse and neglect she suffered at the hands of her mother was heartbreaking to learn about, and while most people obviously wouldn’t turn into freaky criminals over it, it’s very easy to see why she had so much rage inside her, and why she retaliated against people in general. The fact she didn’t kill her victims helped make it easier to sympathize with her as well. Sure, one could argue that she’s cruel enough to let her victims suffer with their disfigurements, but on the other hand, if she really wanted them dead, she was clearly resourceful and detailed enough, so she could’ve easily found a way to kill them. Something stopped her from going that extra step, though, and I like to think it’s because she couldn’t quite bring herself to get to that point. Mind, we don’t know if she planned on taking that extra step with her mom and sister, and it wouldn’t have surprised me if she had. At the end of the day, though, it was clear Desi needed serious help more than anything else, and it’s a shame she never got that opportunity.

I do wonder, however, if it might’ve made more sense for her victim targets to be reversed. Her anger was clearly strongest against her family, so one would think she might’ve gone after them first, thinking it would satiate her pain. And then once she found out it didn’t, she’d start lashing out at other victims as well. Of course, if that had been the case, she likely would’ve had to kill her mom and sister, because once the team found out they’d been injured, it wouldn’t have taken long at all for them to zero in on Desi as a suspect. If she’d killed her family members, but not the random women she attacked, however, that could’ve made for an intriguing contrast to play with.

Or maybe she wouldn’t have needed to attack her family at all. In some ways, this case could’ve been even creepier if Austin had a mysterious person going around disfiguring victims just for the hell of it, with no particular motive or reason as to why, aside from some untapped jealousy and resentment. It just seemed that for somebody who had such a grudge against her family, they were kind of on the periphery here, which seemed odd. Also, I get why she went after Tina, because of her resentment at her perfect life, but it doesn’t sound like Tina tormented her the way her mom had, so I think it might’ve been interesting to explore their relationship a little further, too. Did Tina ever try to reach out to her sister? Did Desi think she was being judgmental when she really wasn’t? Would Tina’s attempts to try and talk Desi down have worked?

I also feel Desi’s big rant towards her mom at the end wasn’t really needed. We already knew, thanks to the team, all the pain she suffered. It felt redundant hearing her going on about it to her mom. I think that end scene might’ve been more effective if she’d kept her mom in a dark room, and had snakes swarming around her, while saying the sorts of ugly words to her mom that she’d been subjected to as a child. Make her feel what Desi felt being locked in the shed. And then she could’ve taunted Tina in a way that felt specific to her resentments towards her as well.

These are all generally minor nitpicks and questions, however. Ultimately, the case was fairly straightforward and well-handled, the unsub was sympathetic, and there was just enough mystery at the start to not make the fact the unsub was a woman so obvious right off the bat.

“As my grandmother used to say, I no like-a the snakes.”

For those who were creeped out by the case, however – and I don’t have a snake phobia, but I still can’t say I blame you – or who weren’t really invested in it for some other reason, luckily, there was a much more pleasant side story worth focusing on. Let’s get off the subject of creepy animals and focus on that part of things instead, shall we?

Meanwhile, back at Quantico:

Remember last season, when the team was working the Crimson King case with the help of then new team member Luke? More importantly, remember how that case hit a personal nerve for Luke? For those of you who need a brief refresher, long story short: Luke’s former team, the Fugitive Task Force, had tried to nab the Crimson King years before the BAU wound up dealing with him. They’d caught him, but it came at a price, as Luke’s then partner was brutally tortured by the unsub. The horrific incident, and its impact on his friend, has haunted Luke ever since.

The show returns to that storyline this episode, allowing us a chance to actually meet Luke’s former partner. The man’s name is Phil, but he goes by the nickname Brick, and he’s confined to a wheelchair. Luke comes to visit him while he's doing his physical therapy at the start of the episode, and they shoot the breeze a bit before getting into more serious discussion. Luke’s been trying to get in touch with Phil, to see how he’s doing, but Phil hasn’t been returning his calls. Phil’s been in his wheelchair for three years now, and despite the physical therapy, brief feeling and sensation in his limbs, and attempts to try walking, so far, sadly, his recovery continues to be a long, arduous process, Luke tries to stay positive and encouraging, but Phil’s starting to lose hope that he’ll ever get better.

For much of the episode, Luke remains troubled by his friend’s despair, desperate to find some way to help cheer him up and give him hope. These guys didn’t just work together, after all, they were true blue friends. They went through training together, were in the military together, and joined the FBI at the same time. He even goes so far as to talk to Matt about the problem at one point, and Matt lends his support as best he can.

“When you’ve got someone counting on you, you find strength you didn’t know you had.”

Luckily, by the end of the episode, Luke’s managed to figure out what to do. He visits Phil once more, but this time, he’s not alone. Garcia’s accompanied him...and she’s brought an utterly adorable puppy! Luke explains to Phil that after his experience in Iraq, he’d struggled for a time, too, and that’s how he wound up with Roxy. She proved to be the pick-me-up he needed, as he could channel his focus into taking care of her, and having her around for company helped him feel less lonely. So he brought Phil a puppy named Lou, in the hopes that the dog could bring him some similar comfort and support, too, especially since Phil doesn’t have any family in the area. Phil’s on board with the idea, and the image of Garcia, Luke, and Phil hanging out and playing with the puppy is a much needed sweet ending to a weird and creepy episode.

I really liked this storyline. The show’s done very well at slowly revealing bits and pieces of Luke’s past and backstory thus far, especially in relation to his time overseas. All his comments about his military service have me longing for an episode (or more) that can properly delve into that part of his past in full, and give us the big picture of just what all he dealt with while in the service.. The missions he was part of, the reasons he signed up, any other stories with fellow soldiers, or the civilians he encountered, things of that sort. I feel that we’ve got a nice foundation for a really juicy and proper Luke storyline in the future, so I’m hoping we’ll get that sometime soon.

This storyline was also a great example of what makes Luke such a likeable character in general. His determination to do something to help Phil was very sweet, and another perfect example of his gentle, thoughtful nature. And I especially liked that he wasn’t afraid to open up to Phil about his own personal issues he’d struggled with. He’s been pretty good at being honest and open about his feelings in general during his time with the team thus far, as well as encouraging others that it’s okay to admit they’re struggling, and that gives us a good insight into his personality in general. There’s no macho posturing, he doesn’t have some “too cool to discuss feelings” attitude about him, and I really appreciate that. Luke knows how to be tough without falling to some of the “tough guy” stereotypes, and his compassion is genuine and deep, and that brings a nice bit of complexity to him as a character.

I also liked Phil himself. He seemed like a cool guy, he had a good rapport with Luke, and I felt for him with his struggle to get better and heal. I’m hoping we can see him again sometime, and that maybe he can be a little further along in his healing process as well if and when that happens.

The mention of the dog was a lovely aspect, too. Not just because the puppy was freaking cute, but also because I think it was a nice way to bring attention to the use of animals as therapy for veterans. We’ve heard the stories in the news about veterans getting pets, or working with animals, and how beneficial the pets are to them on a mental, emotional, and physical level. It was good to get an example of that in action this episode, and the fact that that’s how Roxy came into Luke’s life makes this part of the story all the sweeter.

Luke’s story may have been the big one in regards to the personal side of things this episode, but we did get a brief insight into what’s up with a couple other team members, too. Apparently, Garcia seems to have a “Baby Girl” tattoo somewhere on her body, which is intriguing. I liked the callback to her interest in body art and tattoos this episode – there was an episode from a number of seasons back (“A Thousand Words”) where she’d indicated having some firsthand experience with and knowledge of the body art/tattoo world, so bringing that back was a good bit of continuity. My only questions now are: just where is that tattoo of hers? And does she have any other ones hidden away?

Also, Reid’s preparing for his upcoming lectures, so it looks like his thirty day break period has arrived. He looks very excited about it, though, which is good to see. But of course, it also means that we’re about to lose him again for a couple episodes, unless the show’s found some way to work around that absence this time. I’m just glad that his thirty day break isn’t the result of him struggling badly on a case. We’ll see how it all pans out, however.

And finally, wishing a happy Thanksgiving to all who are celebrating it!

What did you think of the episode? Did the snakes bother you? Did Desi prove sympathetic? Would you like to see more of Phil, or learn more about Luke’s time in the military? Where do you think Garcia’s tattoo is? Share your thoughts in the comments!


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