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Criminal Minds - Ex-Parte/All You Can Eat - Double Review: "Avenger"



Before I begin, my apologies for the delay in getting last week’s episode review up, hence this double review.

We’re down to the wire now with this season of “Criminal Minds”, as this week marks the final two episodes of the season. In recent years, the show’s usually had some sort of hint or buildup to prepare us for whatever they had planned for their season finales. We knew season eight would conclude the Replicator arc that had been running throughout. Season ten set up a serial killer trafficking storyline that paid off in its finale. Season eleven’s finale brought back Mr. Scratch, and that storyline threaded through season twelve into the first episode of the current season.

This time around, however, the show seems to be going back to how they did things in the earlier seasons, with standalone cases and character-centric episodes that don’t seem to hint at any sort of connection to whatever’s coming in the finale. On the one hand, I like that, as it’s nice to get a bit of a breather after the craziness that was the Barnes arc, and before we have to deal with whatever wild stuff happens as the season wraps up. Plus, I liked these last two episodes themselves in general.

On the other hand, however, it would be nice to get at least some idea of what we, and the team, may be in for in the finale. I’m one who does tend to like having some idea of what’s coming, so I can prepare as best I can and go from there. But I know I’m likely in a minority in that regard these days, especially where TV shows are involved.

No matter, though. This is how the show’s choosing to do things this season, so I’ll roll with it. In the meantime, let’s catch up and see what’s been going on with the team within these last couple episodes.

Ex-Parte:

The Case:

New team member Matt Simmons was the main focus of this episode, as his wife, Kristy, was caught up in a hostage situation at the American Legal Defense Council (ALDC for short), where she recently started working. A group of young men connected to an organization known as the Horsemen were responsible for this hostage situation, with the ringleader, Josh, attempting to seek revenge on the ALDC for jailing his father, Leonard. The Horsemen had been labeled a hate group for their racist and violent beliefs and actions, and Leonard, who was also part of the group, wound up on death row after shooting a couple officers who were raiding his property.

Rossi had to talk to Leonard to get more information on the group and their message and motives, and along the way, he and the rest of the team learned that Josh was Leonard’s illegitimate son. Turns out Leonard had a relationship with a Mexican woman he’d smuggled overseas, and that woman is Josh’s mother. Josh’s buddies, Dalton and Jasper, were not happy with this news, and that revelation led to their little plan falling apart, with Dalton and Jasper ultimately being killed in a shootout, and Josh being taken into custody and sent to death row alongside his dad.

The main thrust of this episode, however, involved Kristy trying to save both herself and the other hostages, and Matt struggling between needing to stay behind at the BAU office and wanting to run out to save her himself. The latter instinct ultimately won out, with Matt ultimately being the one to nab Josh. But Kristy was certainly no slouch in the action department, as she used her quick thinking and tech know-how to contact the team and help them keep tabs on everything that was happening within the office. Unfortunately, a couple of the hostages were murdered during the hostage standoff (off screen, thankfully, but still), but thanks to Kristy’s actions, most of them were saved in the end.

I’m not sure we really needed to have a “loved one in peril” episode involving Matt and his wife in his first season on the show, but all things considered, I do appreciate how that part of things was handled overall. I really enjoyed seeing Kristy take action and do her part to help out – judging from her behavior this episode, it’s very easy to see one of the many reasons she and Matt connected as they did. They’re both brave people who aren’t afraid to jump into danger to save not only those they love, but complete strangers as well. And I’m especially glad that Kristy survived her ordeal as well. I figured she was going to, but given this show’s history of killing off the male team members’ loved ones over the years, I wouldn’t have blamed anyone who feared she might be the latest on that list. Especially when Josh threatened to kill her on camera (a moment which I could’ve done without). So kudos to the show for not going the easy, cheap route.

I also thought the show did pretty well overall with the tension of the entire hostage situation. Like “Killer App” back in the early part of the season, it was tough to watch at times, especially given the eerie similarities to real world tragedies that have been in the news in recent months. And while I’m glad that they spared us having to actually see people being shot in this episode, unlike in “Killer App”, seeing the bloodstains, and the bodies in the aftermath, was still pretty startling and unsettling.

But I did like the way the show amped up the nervous tension anytime Kristy would try and make a break to get to her phone, or attempt to get back in time before any of the unsubs caught her. And when Josh was passing by the hidden camera phone, I was actually muttering to myself, “Please don’t let him see it, please don’t let him see it…”. I’ll say that I think it was awfully convenient that Josh kept stepping away, thus allowing Kristy time to do what she needed to do – I think the tension could’ve been even better if Josh was lurking around her and the others the entire time. That would’ve allowed for Kristy to make even more creative choices to contact the team. And it just would’ve made more sense for Josh, who wanted to be in control of everything, to not leave the hostages’ side at all. Still, though, I think that part of things worked overall.

I also enjoyed the scenes of Rossi talking to Leonard. The way he handled Leonard’s threats and anti-government rants was a nice, subtle nod to his experience dealing with such people over the years, as was his attitude about not getting Leonard off death row, to the point where he gloated about his upcoming execution at the end. Rossi’s always been pro-death penalty, so it made sense he wouldn’t want to compromise that stance of his in any way here.

I actually wish we’d had a little more balance between Rossi and Leonard’s conversations and everything going on at the ALDC offices, in part because it would’ve allowed for more good, juicy interaction between the two men, and also because I would’ve liked to learn a lot more about the Horsemen and their history. I think it would’ve fit a lot better if Josh’s motives had been tied to his ideology instead of some personal attempt to be accepted by his father. The idea of a group like that going on a rampage simply because they want to spread a scary ideology is much more chilling. As it is, for all of Josh’s bluster, he just came off rather pathetic in the end. Which, granted, was probably the point. But it would’ve been interesting to see him and his buddies be genuinely menacing.

It also might’ve been interesting to get a glimpse of Kristy at work prior to the hostage crisis. They made brief mention of what she did there, and what the job in general was about, but I would’ve liked to see her and her co-workers in action, and get a real sense of everything. It would’ve helped better highlight just how misguided Josh and his buddies were about the ALDC’s motives and stances, and helped us connect a little more with the other co-workers as well.

As for Matt himself, I liked seeing how he struggled between wanting to help Kristy and staying with the team throughout, and he pulled some pretty impressive moves when taking Josh down at the end as well. I do feel, however, they could’ve cut some of that big fight scene out at the end. Matt could tackle Josh easy with one move, they could’ve just left it at that and gone from there. The bookend scenes with Matt and Kristy were sweet, too, a good mix of the light and the serious. I especially liked Matt’s suggestion to Kristy that she get counseling for what she’s been through. We hear that recommended for the team members all the time, and rightly so, but given how often their loved ones have been through some kind of trauma, too, it’s nice to see somebody acknowledge that.

I also couldn’t help being amused by Rossi’s comments to Matt that a) he shouldn’t be going out to Kristy’s workplace, and b) he couldn’t imagine how Matt felt. First off, really, Rossi? You really can’t imagine? He’s watched his friends struggle in similar situations with loved ones over the years, and he even briefly had Yates making threats towards his family last season when he reared his nasty little head again. And since he sees this team as his family, he’s felt the fear anytime they’ve been in danger as well. So yeah, I’d think by now he’s got some idea of what Matt would be going through.

Second, since when has a loved one being in danger EVER stopped any team member from throwing themselves headlong right into the danger to save them? I could perhaps understand Rossi’s suggestion Matt stay behind at the office if he were coming at it as a piece of advice he and the team have had to learn the hard way, and which they’ll follow going forward. But since I doubt this’ll be the last time a team member will rush into danger to save a loved one, that explanation wouldn’t really fly here. And we all knew Matt would inevitably rush to save his wife in the end anyway, so why delay the inevitable, really?

Those issues aside, though, overall, this was a good standalone episode and a nice little glimpse into Matt’s personal life. I do hope, though, in future episodes, we can get to know him on a deeper level. Yeah, if you watched “Beyond Borders”, you may know a little more about him as a character, but there are fans out there for whom this show is their first introduction to him, too. So I’d like to see them explore his character further in this world, too. Let’s see him hanging out with the team outside of work. Let’s see him chatting it up a little more with the others before or after a case. Maybe explore parts of his life pre-IRT further. Stuff like that.

So that’s the first of these two episodes down. How’d last week’s fare?

All You Can Eat:

The Case:

After two people die as a result of a bizarre poisoning that caused them to bleed to death, the CDC contacts the BAU to help investigate the situation. Initially, given the fact one of the victims, Clayton, was a prominent government employee, and the attack looks similar to other sorts of biochemical attacks, the team believes this may be a terrorist attack.

As they continue to work the case, however, that theory seems to fall by the wayside rather fast. A group of people at a local luncheon are also poisoned, and the team soon realizes the unsub is targeting the business community in the area, and has a much more personal motive in mind. Ultimately, it’s revealed that the unsub was a man named Mark, and he’d worked with his parents at a local, long-running restaurant. Tragically, however, his parents died, and with their deaths, Mark struggled to keep the restaurant afloat.

The restaurant ultimately shut down, however, and when Mark found out one of the victims, Serena, had approved a loan to turn Mark’s family’s restaurant into a new buffet place (called “Good Eatin’ Buffet” – top name, that), and after Clayton had written a bad review of his family’s restaurant online that went viral, that seemed to be the final straw. As a result, Mark felt he had to punish the public, feeling they’d betrayed his family by moving on and finding new places to go for food. He’d planned a similar poisoning at the new restaurant on its opening day as well, but luckily, the team was able to stop him before anything happened.

Initially, I thought this episode was going to be similar to “Amplification” in some respects, with the whole poisoning storyline. I’m glad it wasn’t, but like with “Ex-Parte”, I wish they could’ve kept the unsub’s motive less personal in its motivations. This seems to be a theme with this show lately – they have a case like this, with a truly ominous, far-reaching threat…only to make the motive due to some family drama of some sort. Granted, in real life, there’s many cases like that, so it makes sense they’d have cases like that here, too, and I don’t expect them to be tackling terrorism cases all the time or anything of that sort.

But it would’ve been interesting if Mark had wanted to poison those people just for the hell of it, too. Heck, they could’ve even kept the revenge angle, and had it where Mark had some kind of delusions of grandeur about how great his business was, to where he wanted to take down anyone he saw as a threat. Or maybe he’d been pulling dirty tricks in the past to keep his business afloat, but when those didn’t work, he resorted to poisoning to make sure people weren’t standing in his way. Something like that, that could’ve been a little outside the norm in terms of motive. I feel like the show was trying to draw some parallel between Mark’s inability to move past his loss and the situation Garcia was going through this episode, but I don’t know if it really connected as well as they wanted it to.

On the note of Garcia, though, I did appreciate that they didn’t call her constantly throughout the episode to get her input, and managed to work the case without much help from her. Not only did it spare us any unnecessary distractions during Garcia’s story, but it was also nice to see the team doing some old fashioned leg work on their own. I love Garcia and how eager and quick she is to help everyone when needed, of course, and admire her tech savvy skills (unrealistic though they may be at times), but it’s nice for the show to remember that her tech skills alone cannot solve a case.

Since Garcia was not working the case with the team this time, let’s see what she was up to instead.

Meanwhile, out in San Francisco:

Yeah, the personal storyline doesn’t happen in Quantico this time! How about that?

“Ex-Parte” focused on the newest member of the team. So it seems rather fitting that this episode’s storyline would then be tied to one of the veteran team members: Garcia. As noted in the header, she’s off to her original hometown of San Francisco this week, but sadly, it’s not for any sort of fun reason.

Those of you who’ve followed this show over the years know two main things about Garcia’s past. One, she’s got a stepfather and stepbrothers (the latter of which has been hard to pin down exactly, as canon’s seemed to go back and forth on that issue at times). And two, her stepfather, and her mother, were both killed in a car accident when Garcia was just eighteen years old. They’d been out looking for her when she was out too late one night, and while they were out, a drunk driver killed them. Garcia’s felt some level of guilt and responsibility for her parents’ deaths over the years – if she hadn’t been out that night, they wouldn’t have had to go look for her, and thus, she reasons, they’d still be alive today.

This episode reveals that it’s been twenty years since that tragic night, and the man who killed Garcia’s parents is on year twenty of a twenty-five year prison sentence for the crime. He may be out sooner than expected, however, as he’s currently up for a parole hearing. Up to now, Garcia hadn’t attended any of the parole hearings for the man, leaving that unpleasant task to one of her stepbrothers, Carlos. Her combined guilt and anger towards the man who killed her parents has just been too strong for her to face the situation head on.

This time around, however, her opinion’s apparently changed. Carlos has managed to convince her to come out there to support him at this hearing, and she obliges. Despite the painful nature of the visit, Garcia and Carlos do manage to have a nice little reunion. It’s apparently been a while since she’s been back home, let alone spent time with her siblings (the other three aren’t in town, but we do learn their names – Eddie, Manny, and Rafe, for those wondering), so she does a bit of catching up with her brother, and they hang out a bit and have a fun afternoon together. Carlos also talks to her about what he plans to say at the hearing.

Later on, Garcia gets a call from a mysterious person, asking to speak to her. Initially she angrily refuses the offer, but she soon relents, and meets up with the person, who turns out to be Collette. Collette is the sister of the drunk driver, Jesse. She reveals that Jesse has been using the money he’s made in prison to send flowers to Garcia’s parents’ grave each year, and stresses to Garcia just how remorseful her brother truly is. She wants Garcia to talk to Jesse, so she can see that as well. Again, Garcia is against the idea at first, but as seems to be the case with her this episode, she changes her mind, and visits Jesse in prison. He apologizes for upsetting her with the flowers, and expresses deep regret for his actions the night of her parents’ deaths. She can see his remorse is genuine, but she’s still clearly angry at him for what happened that night, obviously, and makes it clear she’ll vote to keep him in jail.

As the story plays out, we see flashbacks to the night of the accident itself. Garcia comes home to find a note from her parents, explaining where they’d gone. The police come to the door soon after with the bad news, and Garcia and Jesse get a glimpse of each other that night. We learn that Jesse was the same age as Garcia when he committed his crime, which somehow makes the whole thing even sadder. Carlos, awakened by all the commotion, comes downstairs to see what’s going on, and it’s through this part of the story that we learn that Garcia never told him, or any of her brothers, just why her parents were out that night. Obviously, she was afraid they’d blame her, the way she’s been blaming herself all this time.

Soon, the day of the hearing arrives. Carlos is nervous about giving his victim statement, so he asks Garcia to do it instead. He feels that maybe her role as an FBI agent might help the words hold more weight, since it’s her job to uphold and respect the law. Garcia starts off reading Carlos’ words as planned, and this hearing looks as though it’ll play out the way every other one has thus far.

Until, that is, Garcia changes her mind halfway through the statement. She supports Carlos’ words and feelings…but she also wants to get rid of all the guilt and anger she’s been carrying around all these years. She’s seen what happens to people who hold on to that guilt and anger through her job, and she’s also seen what the power of forgiveness can do. It’s in Garcia’s nature to forgive and believe in change and redeeming oneself, and she feels she should live up to those ideals here.

Collette and Jesse are surprised by Garcia’s words, but also deeply moved. Carlos is surprised, too – but in the opposite direction. He is so angry that he storms out of the hearing, and when Garcia tries to explain her decision to him afterward, he refuses to hear it. Garcia also confesses the full story behind why her parents were out the night they died, as an attempt to further explain her feelings, but that only upsets Carlos more. He can’t bear to look at her, and leaves without another word.

At the end of the episode, Garcia heads out to her parents’ graves and talks to them for a while, discussing the recent hearing, her hopes that she can make things right with Carlos and Jesse can do right with his life going forward, and her tearful regrets over the pain and distance of the past twenty years.

I was way more invested in this part of the episode than I was the case. It was fun to see one member of Garcia’s family at long last, and I only wish we could’ve seen all her stepbrothers. I also appreciated that the show finally cleared up the whole sibling issue.

And I liked seeing Garcia work through her family’s painful history as she did here. The flashbacks to the night of the accident were poignant (Garcia getting that note upon arriving home actually broke my heart a little, since we knew what was coming), and the ending, with her at her parents’ gravesite and finally letting out some of the emotions she’d been struggling with for so long, genuinely got me choked up. I was certain that Carlos would show up at the gravesite at the end, and while that would’ve been nice in some ways, since it could’ve let us know that he and Garcia would work through their differences, at the same time, I’m ultimately glad they let Garcia have that time alone, and didn’t go the predictable route. I think she needed that peace and quiet, and I kind of liked the open-ended aspect of it all, where we could imagine for ourselves how things would turn out going forward.

I’m also not surprised she ultimately took the stance she did at the hearing – in some ways, this storyline reminded me of the one in “Burn”, where she went to visit the man who tried to shoot her and Reid in the season nine finale, and tried to talk things through with him. The fact that she was able to so easily forgive Baylor and wanted to reach out to him a few seasons ago made her reticence to meet up with Jesse here, or her history of not going to the hearings, a bit surprising to me at first. In both cases, someone she cared about was put in a life-threatening situation (though in the case of Reid, at least things ended well for him), so one would initially assume her reaction would be similar in both situations.

But then you take into account the blame she put on herself for her parents’ death, blame that she didn’t have to put on herself regarding Reid, given she’d saved his life, and it makes her hesitation here a little more understandable as a result. I do wish we could’ve seen or explored her refusal to go to any of the hearings within the past twenty years a little more – did she ever have a moment within that time where she’d considered going? Did she have letters or e-mails from her brothers over the years, in which they’d begged her to come out and support them or speak, and she’d refused or ignored them? I think that could’ve helped us get a better glimpse into how long she’s dealt with this dilemma, too, and could’ve built up some good tension between her and Carlos, which could’ve boiled over when Garcia changed her mind at the hearing. I just feel like there’s more to these siblings’ history these past twenty years, both in regards to this situation and in general, that would’ve been worth exploring further.

I was also surprised that we got to spend some time with Jesse himself. I figured this storyline would focus solely on Garcia and Carlos and their struggles with this painful past, but I appreciate that we got to see the other side of the coin, too. It could’ve been interesting if they’d made Jesse not regret his actions that night, had him still be a troubled prisoner, as I think that could’ve made for a real challenge for Garcia in terms of trying to find forgiveness and redemption. But ultimately, I am glad that they made Jesse remorseful. I like that he acknowledged there was no excuse for his actions, and I think the fact that he was the same age as Garcia back then made for an interesting connection point between them.

And I liked the scenes between Garcia and Collette, too. I think they could’ve teased out the mystery call and flowers a little longer, to add to the eerie, haunting nature of the situation, but that issue aside, I liked being able to get a glimpse at how family members of the convicted struggle, too. Again, they could’ve perhaps gone a different route here, with Collette maybe being wary of her brother being let out, because of the horrible nature of his crime, or because of her fear at how well he’ll readjust to civilian life after twenty years behind bars. I think it was kind of a no-brainer that she’d want her brother paroled, so going a different route could’ve made the situation a little more thorny for Garcia to sort through. But that critique aside, I did like the way Collette and Garcia interacted, brief though their time together was, and Collette made me feel for her.

Much as I understood and sympathized with Garcia’s final stance at the hearing, however, I do agree with some out there who feel it might’ve helped her to talk to Carlos about her decision first. True, once he asked her to speak, he should’ve prepared for the possibility, no matter how small, that she might change her mind (and if he didn’t think she could do that, then that really does speak to how little this family’s apparently interacted over the years, and how he may not know her as well as he thought he did). But I also totally understand his anger at Garcia springing that change on him out of nowhere, and betraying his words to inject her own views. Like Garcia, I tend to be an optimistic sort, so I do prefer to believe she and Carlos will eventually move past this and sort things out. Garcia’s words at the end said as much. But I can see there being a rift for a while, too.

Also, I’m kind of stuck on the math of this timeline. Twenty years ago is 1998. In the episode “Penelope”, which was in 2007, it was stated Garcia was thirty years old. So that would mean she was twenty-one in 1998 when her parents died (and that’s the year listed on their gravestone), which…is clearly a few years beyond the “they died when I was eighteen” premise. And on the subject of odd numbers, twenty-five years seems a long time for a drunk driving conviction. Most drunk drivers do not spend that long in jail, not that I can recall, anyway. Not unless they’ve had a REALLY long, bad history of drunk driving incidents, perhaps. And considering Jesse was only eighteen when he committed his crime, that would be a very short time to rack up a lot of those incidents. Not to say it couldn’t happen, but still…yeah. The timeline in general here is just really wonky.

Those issues aside, however, ultimately, I liked this story. It’s always good when we get to explore these aspects of the characters’ pasts in more detail like this, and I hope we can see Carlos again someday, as well as the rest of her brothers…and under much happier circumstances at that.

Two episodes down, two more to go, and we are done for another season. Hard to believe. Can’t wait to discuss the finale with you all!

What did you think of these episodes? Was the hostage situation in “Ex-Parte” tough to watch? Did you enjoy Kristy getting involved in helping with the case? Did you want to see more of Garcia’s brothers in “All You Can Eat”? Do you side more with Carlos or Garcia in regards to setting Jesse free? Would you have liked some hint of what’s to come in the season finale, or are you content with these standalone episodes? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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