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Criminal Minds - 300 - Review: “History”

Fall is here, and with it comes a whole new season of “Criminal Minds”. And this one starts off on one hell of a big note, as the show celebrates its 300th episode. The main focus, obviously, is on resolving the cliffhanger from last season, in which the team discovered a cult within the FBI. This discovery soon put Reid and Garcia in grave danger, and now it’s up to the rest of the team to save them and take down the cult once and for all. Fortunately, given the significance of this particular episode, alongside the action and danger, we also get some lovely callbacks to the past thirteen years – and I mean way back. Like, “referencing stuff from the first season” types of callbacks. So let’s jump in and see how it all plays out, shall we?

The Case:

After kicking off with a fun look back at the ways in which various team members joined the team, set against a voiceover of Rossi’s comments from the end of “Elliott’s Pond”, we jump right into the action. The team returns to the BAU and realizes that not only are Reid and Garcia missing, but so are Merva, Meadows, and Theo. They do manage to find Quinn, though, and surprisingly, he’s still alive, though clearly in bad shape. While he’s shuttled off to the hospital (where Luke’s girlfriend Lisa is waiting to admit him), the team turns their focus to the search for all these missing people.

“I will die before I help you.”

Luckily, it doesn’t take us viewers long to find out where Reid and Garcia are. Merva and Meadows seem to be holding them in some kind of warehouse, and Garcia in particular is in fighting mode, informing Meadows point blank at one point, ‘I hate you.” Which, honestly, same. Meadows tries to taunt her with threats against Reid, and claims Reid’s giving the cult everything they need, but Garcia’s made it clear she’s not going to back down. She’ll only do what they ask if they bring Reid to her.

Reid and Garcia’s reunion is brief, but during that time they manage to formulate an escape plan of their own. A short time later, Reid manages to distract the cult members long enough for Garcia to get out, steal a car, and mow down Meadows as she barrels out of the warehouse, injuring her in the process. Reid, meanwhile, stays behind in an attempt to placate the cult and figure out their endgame.

Back at Quantico, Luke is looking at a rather curious clue Reid left on the camera footage during the time of Merva and Meadows’ escape. Aware of Luke’s expertise in sign language, Reid uses that particular language to send a message to him: “Ben’s Believers.” Clearly, Luke thinks, it’s a reference to Benjamin and the Believers, but does it mean more than that?

Well, that’s where things get REALLY interesting, as it turns out the “Ben’s Believers” message and Meadows’ history in the FBI are connected to a very memorable case in the BAU’s history: Liberty Ranch, the polygamist compound headed by Benjamin Cyrus. You’ll recall that Reid and Emily were held captive by Cyrus at the compound during an attempt to try and investigate the cult. “Ben’s Believers” was a reference to Benjamin Cyrus, and a comment he’d made to Rossi during that case: “We’re believers, Dave.”

So how are the two cults connected? Well, turns out that Merva, Meadows, and the other current Believer cult members were part of the Liberty Ranch cult back in the day! Meadows was one of Cyrus’ many wives, and learned her shooting skills here. After the BAU took on the Liberty Ranch cult, the members, Meadows and Benjamin included, were put into Witness Protection. Unfortunately, however, they also built up an awful lot of resentment and anger against the BAU, both for disbanding their cult and for Cyrus’ death. As a result, they tried to rebuild their cult, and Meadows joined the FBI in an attempt to covertly keep tabs on the BAU and plot revenge.

To make matters even worse, that whole string of murders Merva’s cult committed, and which Quinn had started investigating? Initially the team thought there were only seven victims in that string of killings. But there were more. LOTS more. Like, try 299 murders. The team didn’t know about those murders, though, because Meadows never entered those murders into the ViCAP system, lest the BAU discover their plans. As for the bones they removed? That was their way of trying to silence their victims – and they removed those bones while the victims were alive. Yeouch.

The team soon learns that the cult plans to build a new compound in Kentucky. Why Kentucky? Well, that’s the place where Cyrus was jailed and “reborn” as Cyrus before becoming a cult leader, and Reid specifically mentions 10:23, as in the Bible’s Matthew, chapter ten, verse twenty-three, which is a reference to Eden. The cult sees this new compound as their Eden, and they need 300 victims, or “angels”, who can protect them. So basically, the cult members are just hunters, trying to find people to sacrifice to Merva.

And who do they want to be their 300th victim? If you said Reid, congratulations, you win! They also want Quinn’s son Theo to be their new messiah. Religious fanaticism, I tell ya… It’s a trip.

Fortunately for Reid, he’s spared becoming the final piece of their twisted puzzle. The team manages to arrive just in time to see him stalling the proceedings by quoting a Bible verse of his own (those of you who are musically inclined may also recognize the words as the lyrics to the Byrds’ classic “Turn, Turn, Turn”). This gives the BAU team, as well as the SWAT officers who’ve joined the party, time to knock out a few cult members and ultimately go in guns a-blazing, taking out Meadows and Benjamin in the process. Any cult members still alive are then arrested and taken into custody, Reid is saved, and there’s hugs and huge sighs of relief all around.

Unfortunately, however, the team was not able to save Theo in time. His body was found in the warehouse when the cult fled after Garcia’s daring escape.

So this is the third big milestone episode in the show’s run. The 100th episode, tragic as its storyline is, remains a memorable highlight of the series for the fandom. The 200th episode doesn’t have nearly as much love, for a whole host of reasons (I personally like the episode, myself, but I won’t argue it’s got its flaws). Clearly, the 300th had a lot to live up to. Would it be as beloved as “100”, or would it split the fans, like “200”?

My final verdict? I think it fits much better alongside the 100th episode. The cases, both old and new, had Reid as part of their connection, just like Hotch and his family were the focus of “100”. And yet, the team got just as much focus as Hotch did in that episode, and the same can be said here as well. I loved the nod to Luke’s sign language experience, I liked Tara’s knowledge of unusual history being brought in as well, and Matt was a good, steady source of calm for everybody.

And it was neat to see the long-running team members recall their own memories from the Cyrus case, and the roles they played throughout, to help put all the puzzle pieces together. I also appreciated that Garcia was able to help in ways that didn’t rely so heavily on her tech skills, and her “quick on her feet” reactions. Her behavior here reminded me a little of “Demons”, another situation where she had to think fast to protect and save Reid. I like it when Garcia lets her darker, more aggressive side show every now and again, and that came out in full force here.

As for Reid, I liked how he used the same tactics here that he did when dealing with Cyrus and his cult. His feigned submissiveness, his calm demeanor around them, the way he talked to Benjamin when trying to figure out the Believers’ plans, it was all in line with the way we’re used to seeing Reid handle himself while in danger. The fact that Reid didn’t fly into a rage here should be a comfort to him, considering his fears that his time in prison might’ve hardened him and made him into a more aggressive, potentially violent man.

And yet, I got a kick out of how he did manage to unnerve Meadows and Merva a little, with the dead-eyed glance and the lack of any fear when he had a knife against his throat. Reid’s been down this road so many times that these kinds of situations don’t seem to faze him anymore, and it’s hard for a cult to brainwash somebody when they show no vulnerability. His time in prison also seemed to harden him enough to where he feels no fear, because if he could survive all of that, he can survive this, too.

I’m also glad we got a moment, brief though it was, where Reid and Garcia forged a plan of their own. I would’ve liked to see them work together a little more, honestly, but the ways in which they looked out for each other and tried to keep each other safe proved why their friendship is so special.

As for the case as a whole, it was over the top, yes, and ludicrous in many ways (bones, of all things? Managing to hide under the radar all these years, yet not doing more to throw the team off where they were currently hiding?). And yeah, the connection to Cyrus seems a bit of a stretch – I think it might’ve helped if they’d managed to bring back actual extras from “Minimal Loss”, instead of retroactively inserting Meadows into old footage from that episode, and hinted more at the similarities last season. Either that, or just let this cult stand on its own. It just feels like this was built on a rather shaky, very complicated setup that could fall apart if you really looked closely at it.

Even with that issue, though, I still did like the idea of a past case coming back to haunt them, and victims from that case being affected to the point of becoming unsubs, in and of itself. I enjoyed the references to “Minimal Loss” and seeing what the team members who were there remembered. It’s a shame that they couldn’t find some way to involve Kathy, the mother whose daughter was married to Cyrus and sacrificed her life for him. I loved her interactions with Emily in that episode, and it would’ve been neat to see them interact again here, especially in light of the cult members’ anger towards the BAU. Kathy’s sympathy for them could’ve made for an interesting contrast.

I do wish they could’ve taken the cult down in a way that didn’t have to involve a shootout. These people were already blaming the BAU for Cyrus’ death. Shooting their new leader to death, as well as more fellow cult members, will only add to that blame. It would’ve been better to see Reid and Emily communicate with them the way they tried to communicate with Cyrus’ people, or distract them long enough for the others to arrest them. And I’m surprised that we didn’t get any update on how Quinn was doing. He'd been so close to reuniting with his own son, it would've been nice to hear how that panned out.

Also, seriously, the FBI desperately needs to invest in the tightest anti-hacking security imaginable at this point, ‘cause it’s incredibly disturbing how many unsubs have been able to get into those guys’ computer systems over the years. Lock that stuff down, people!

And finally, as sweet as that opening sequence of the team members’ first appearances was, I would’ve liked a nod to the other team members that came and went, too. Yeah, they may not be here anymore, but they still played an important role in the team’s history, and it would’ve been nice to see that acknowledged, even if only briefly.

Strong Bonds:

“You need something to hold on to.”

On the non-case side of things, the 300th episode also made a nod to one of my all-time favorite moments in this series, and, to my absolute and pleasant surprise, finally gave us the details behind a long-running mystery surrounding a special event from the show’s first season. While being held captive, Reid flashed back to a much happier memory in an attempt to keep him focused and calm – the day that JJ asked him to be Henry’s godfather, and he got to hold the baby boy in his arms.

“He adores you. And it sounds like that was the beginning of something better.”

JJ, meanwhile, recalled another important memory involving herself and Reid, one that she opened up to Emily about in an attempt to distract herself from her fear. Remember when Reid asked JJ to the Redskins game waaaaaay back in season one? That date happened off screen, and in the next episode, when Morgan asked Reid how it went, all he would say was, “Top secret”. Since then, many fans have spent years wondering just what the hell happened on that date, because Reid and JJ curiously never brought it up again at any point.

Until now, that is. According to JJ, she didn’t want to put too much pressure on Reid, and felt all the younger team members should hang out together, so she invited Garcia to join them on their outing. Reid had also been getting a lot of dating advice from Morgan and Hotch, and yet despite their help (and, no doubt, a bit of teasing on Morgan’s part), he was apparently very nervous and awkward throughout the date. Still, the way JJ speaks of the memory, it seems she had a fun time regardless, and, as Emily notes, it was an important step in what became a long-running, very close friendship between JJ, Reid, and Garcia.

Also, on the plane ride home at the end of the episode, JJ, who spent virtually the whole case freaking out over Reid and Garcia’s fate, shares a quiet moment with Reid. And when Emily comes to check on him, Reid tells her, and by extension, the rest of the team, that he loves everyone. Aw.

I loved, loved the “Memoriam” flashback. The scene with Reid holding a newborn Henry is, as noted above, one of my favorite moments from the whole series, from one of my favorite episodes of the whole series, and the idea that Reid held on to that memory during a tough moment is very touching and sweet, and a sign of just how much he values and cares about JJ and her son (now sons). It makes sense that bond would help him through a tough time, too – when Reid was in prison a couple seasons ago, JJ brought a picture of Henry had drawn of himself and Reid at a park. It was a brief moment of happiness when Reid was at his lowest point. I like that they continued that theme here.

And JJ opening up about the Redskins game date totally threw me off guard, but in the best way possible. I’d been fine with the show not giving us details about that date for years, because it was fun, as a fan, to imagine my own idea of how it played out. I imagine some other fans felt similarly. That said, I’m certainly not complaining about the show finally giving us some answers related to that date. Given the importance of this episode, and perhaps spurred on by the fact this season is shorter, and therefore there’s a little more uncertainty about just how much longer this series will run, it makes sense the show would touch on some of those fun little moments in the characters’ histories a little further.

For the most part, their version of events is fairly similar to what I’d imagined the date to be (though I have heard, and read, some wonderful versions of that date elsewhere). I never imagined Garcia being part of the date, though, and while that part doesn’t jive with what I’d imagined (if only because I think if anyone would’ve spilled or alluded to the details of that date before now, it would surely be her), I do like the idea that her being there is part of the reason why she forged the kinds of friendships she has with JJ and Reid. So I can roll with it.

I must admit to also questioning Hotch giving Reid dating advice. Morgan would absolutely do that, no question, but Hotch, for as close as he became to his team over the years, has never really been the sort to give that kind of personal advice to the younger team members. Plus, I think Reid would’ve felt awkward asking his boss about stuff like that. Since Gideon was the one who noticed Reid’s crush on JJ, and gave him the tickets and encouraged the date, I think he’d have been more likely to give Reid the dating advice. That’s a minor quibble, though. You may disagree!

So that’s that for “300”! As has been custom, now the season’s started off with a bang, we’ll probably start settling back into the typical case-of-the-week stuff from here on out, and allow the team to get a bit of a breather again. It sounds like we’ll get to see the effects of the events of this episode carry on, though, so hopefully we’ll get some good things out of the aftermath. An episode as big as this, there’s no way you can just let it pass without any fallout.

What did you think of the episode? Did it live up to the hype? Where would you rank this episode alongside “100” and “200”? What was your favorite callback? Did the connections to the Liberty Ranch case work for you? Did the details of the Redskins date match your theories about it? Were there any other references and callbacks you would’ve liked to see in the episode? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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