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Criminal Minds - Innocence - Review: “Family Matters”

After a rather strange and out there case last week, we return to something a little more typical this go-round. Which is kind of funny, considering this week’s case takes place in Florida – anyone who’s watched this show for any length of time is aware of how messed up and bizarre their Florida-based cases tend to be.

Overall, I liked the general setup of this week’s case. The motives weren’t as haphazard as those of last week’s unsub, the show did well at avoiding piling on potential suspects, the way they’ve been known to do sometimes in the past, and there was a good bit of tension in regards to a couple of the suspects in particular. Even the reveal, while a rather obvious one in many ways, added to the disturbing nature of the case. There were a few aspects of it that didn’t quite work or make sense, but for the most part, there was enough here to keep me interested.

This episode also delves more deeply into Garcia’s struggle to move on from the events of the season premiere, and like with the case, it’s kind of a mixed bag in some ways. Garcia gets some help in a way that makes for a refreshing change of pace, and there’s some genuinely sweet and touching moments with her storyline as well. At the same time, however, it also feels like the resolution somehow feels both pat and unfinished all at once, a feeling that seems to have plagued a few of the personal storylines of late.

So without further ado, let’s get into the episode and explore these issues in depth.

The Case:

We’re dropped right into the danger as the episode begins. A terrified woman is being led through the darkened woods by the unsub. She’s pleading for her life, and curiously, is saying she “won’t tell anyone what happened”, or “get them in trouble”. Her pleas fall on deaf ears, however, as she’s then tied to a tree, blindfolded and gagged, and murdered. Afterward, the unsub takes a blue shirt, nails it to a tree...and shoots at it. Okay, then.

As the team soon learns, the poor woman’s name is Melissa, and so far, she’s the unsub’s only victim. The kids were asleep at the time of the murder, and there was no sign of forced entry into the house. This leads the team to wonder if her husband Danny was responsible, but he’s got a solid alibi: he was out of town on business at the time (and there’s plenty of proof to confirm that), and there’s no evidence of him hiring somebody to kill her. Besides that, the murder appears to have a ritualistic element to it, due to some rocks being left at the scene, which implies there may be more to this crime than meets the eye.

The team’s also curious about the fact that Melissa and her family recently moved from Virginia down to their current residence in Florida. Perhaps the move had something to do with her being targeted. As a result, Emily decides that she and Rossi will remain in Quantico, while the rest of the team flies out to Florida. Much easier to cover all possible bases that way.

“There’s got to be more to her story than this squeaky clean facade.”

While in Florida, the team learns that Melissa and Danny became involved with a local church and started homeschooling their kids. This new lifestyle didn’t seem to satisfy Melissa, however, as reports start to surface that she seemed a lot more isolated and lonely in her new town. Between that, her husband’s job, and her daughter being restless at night, the situation seems ripe for tension and possible issues. Danny tells Matt that she wouldn’t have left of her own accord, and the family doesn’t own any weapons. Still, despite his grief and a clear alibi, Matt can’t help feeling like there’s something he’s hiding, a concern that’s only heightened by the tension when Melissa’s sister Laura comes to support the family.

Meanwhile, back in Virginia, Emily and Rossi meet up with one of Melissa’s former co-workers, a man named Brian, to address some of the rumors. He confesses that he was indeed very close to Melissa...but not in the way they think. Turns out Brian, while married to a woman, is gay, and was struggling with issues relating to that. Luckily, however, he found a much needed and supportive confidant in Melissa, even referring to their relationship as that of “kindred spirits”.

Unfortunately, it seems the ability to open up was not a two-way street. Brian describes Melissa as being a very private person, and noticed a general sadness about her, even seeing her cry at work once. When he asked her what was wrong, however, she brushed it off, insisting he needn’t worry. He never did find out what had been troubling her, but he was bothered by her tearful reaction nonetheless.

Things get even more interesting when Tara and Reid visit Pastor Hollis, the man running the church Melissa frequented. According to him, Melissa had recently stopped attending church services and Bible study, but hadn’t told her husband that. Apparently, Hollis seems to believe that Melissa had sinned somehow. He’s convinced that she was having an affair, and had kept it secret from her husband. He seems pretty judgmental about the possibility, too – he even made a speech recently stating that adulterers should be put to death. You’ll remember there were stones found at the crime scene. And Hollis doesn’t have an alibi for the night of her murder. Hmmm.

Hollis starts looking even more questionable when Melissa’s sister Laura is murdered. She’d gone to the church before her death to confront Hollis. Why? Seems she suspected him of having an affair with Melissa, and shunning her to try and protect his image. Hollis insists that’s not true, but he does eventually admit that when Melissa came to him at one point, confessing that she had sinned (though never specifying the sin in question), he’d tried to make a move on her. Classy guy. Melissa immediately rejected his advances, and that’s when she stopped going to church. “You are a hypocrite, but we believe you,” Reid coldly tells him.

Danny’s still not entirely off the hook, either, as it turns out he’d also have plenty of motive to kill Laura. Remember the tension Matt had noticed when Laura arrived? Turns out she didn’t care for Danny all that much, even going so far as to suspect him of killing Melissa. To make matters worse, the team soon finds medical records for Melissa and her family going back the past four years, and there’s a LOT of reports of bruises, burns, and broken bones in there. Maybe Melissa’s reason to homeschool her children wasn’t because of religion after all.

What’s more, a mistake Garcia makes when examining security footage regarding Danny’s time out of town reveals a hole in his alibi. Luke and Matt confront Danny with all of this, and he does seem genuinely surprised and shocked at the accusations. But the pressure ultimately gets to be too much, and he confesses to the murders.

Mystery solved, right? Well, not exactly. The team doesn’t buy that he’s guilty, and that’s confirmed when DNA tests on the rocks from both crime scenes rule him out. Rather, they think he’s covering for somebody else: his son Jacob.

A visit to the school the kids attended before their move to Florida gives the team the full story. The teachers had no problem with Melissa and Danny’s daughter, Lizzie. But the fact the teachers were actually relieved when Jacob left school speaks volumes. They claim he was quite the troublemaker, injuring other kids and being disruptive, and despite repeated attempts to get him tested for behavioral problems, his parents refused. Looks like the painful secret Melissa struggled with was related to her son, and she saw his behavior problems as a punishment for her sins.

Things got even worse when Jacob decided to start working on his family tree as a gift for his parents. While researching, he discovered, to his horror, that he wasn’t Danny’s biological son. His mom did indeed have an affair, and the man she cheated with is his real father. His sister Lizzie is Danny’s biological daughter, however, and this further enrages him. He’s already taken out his mom for lying to him and cheating on his dad, and his aunt for concealing the truth about the affair. Now Lizzie is his next target.

Of course, thankfully, he never gets the chance to exact revenge on her. The team arrives just in time, and JJ, after giving a moving speech about family not just being blood, as well as the lengths Danny went to protect his son, manages to talk him down. A good tackle from Luke helps end the danger as well.

The best thing about this episode, for me, was the building tension and back and forth involving Danny and the pastor. I liked how both men made for believable suspects, and had potential motives that seemed plausible. I liked the antagonistic nature of the pastor, and especially enjoyed the way Tara and Reid dealt with him. It was fun to see them not buying into his BS, and I was intrigued to see just how long the pastor could handle trying to push back against them. It was nice to see an episode that kept its potential unsubs to a reasonable number, and kept its twists simple.

I also liked Danny’s attempts to try and protect his son, and the way he subverted the usual “it’s always the husband” trope. It’s always particularly interesting when the team has to deal with somebody who seems so obviously guilty based on the evidence, but who isn’t actually the criminal in question. And I particularly liked the way he turned from a suspect to be wary of to a sympathetic man in the blink of an eye. Here we are thinking he’s done something to his wife one minute, the next he’s a desperate dad trying to hold what’s left of his family together and genuinely confused by the accusations against him. It’s hard not to feel for somebody in that situation.

Even Jacob, the actual unsub, managed a smidge of sympathy. A teenager learning his life hasn’t been what he was told, and finding out his parents had been lying to him all this time? I can totally see where that would shake somebody up a little. It obviously doesn’t justify his crimes, of course, but it’s clear his family was struggling with a lot of issues, and so it’s not surprising that that could have negative effects on him.

I also liked how they slowly revealed new details about Melissa and her family’s life throughout. It added to our back and forth over who might be our unsub, and had us wondering how much deeper the line of secrets would go. The angle with the co-worker was a nice touch, too. Again, he was a sympathetic character, and it helped me better understand and care about Melissa as well. It’s fitting that we only got to know Melissa after she died, considering how little a lot of people knew about her while she was alive.

If only the final act hadn’t felt so anti-climactic. A lot of people claimed to suspect Jacob fairly early on, which kind of undercut some of the great tension they were building in regards to Danny and the pastor. I like the idea of the son being the unsub in and of itself, and I think his motive was interesting. But I feel that by showing him already obviously acting weird, it kinda took away some of the punch. I feel like they could’ve found better ways to subtly drop that aspect in, in a way that would’ve made the reveal more shocking.

And even after they found out Jacob was the killer, they talked him down from attacking his sister...and that was it. If this news about his family had affected him that badly, I would think that’d show even after he was taken into custody, and so I would’ve liked to see how that part of things would’ve played out. Maybe he didn’t want a man he didn’t see as his real father to try and protect him. Maybe he sees his dad when he’s being taken into the police station, and there’s some tension. Maybe the dad, upon realizing that his son was about ready to kill his daughter, reconsiders trying to forge a bond with Jacob. Stuff like that. It could’ve made the episode a little more haunting and added to the tense atmosphere throughout.

I’m also surprised that the son wasn’t considered a possible suspect by the team sooner, and that they seemed shocked by the idea he could’ve been their unsub. Yeah, initially they didn’t have the kind of evidence for him that they felt they did for Danny or the pastor, but they’ve also worked plenty of cases where teenagers have killed their parents. So you would think they would’ve at least mentioned that idea at some point early on in the investigation, and prepared for the possibility.

And finally, the team’s reason for taking this case seemed kinda...flimsy? The ritualistic aspect they were initially interested in never really wound up going anywhere, and at the end of the day this was ultimately a tragic story of a family member taking out some of their own. It seemed like a case that the area’s local police could’ve worked and solved without the aid of the BAU.

Those issues and nitpicks aside, however, I did still like the case overall. I felt the teamwork throughout was pretty solid, I liked the whole thing of splitting the team up, and I liked the ways in which they gathered their information this episode. Like with “Starter Home”, it was interesting to see how they dealt with the gossip and rumors, and had to sort fact from fiction. And the DNA site angle was a good touch as well.

Family problems weren’t just relegated to the case this week. A team member had to confront their own history with that issue as well, on top of the other problems they’d been struggling with of late. Luckily, along the way, we got yet another lovely reminder of the family bonds the members of the BAU share.

Meanwhile, back at Quantico:

“You are not the mug. You’re the glue that holds the mug together.”

Garcia’s already in a jumpy mood when the episode begins, accidentally breaking a favorite mug in the process. Emily offers to help fix the mug, but Garcia shrugs it off and tosses the pieces in the garbage. She puts on her whole, “I’m totally fine” facade, but you don’t need to be a profiler to know she’s lying.

Eventually, Emily manages to find a moment to talk to Garcia, and this time, Garcia’s not even trying to hide her emotional state. It’s clear she hasn’t fully worked through the trauma she’d dealt with in “300”, and, Emily notes, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Garcia’s also still estranged from and feeling guilty about her brother Carlos, who distanced himself from her after she’d supported the release of the man who killed their parents last season. And she’s had a lot of other tough stuff to deal with as well. Emily reminds her that letting those years’ worth of pain and stress build up is not helpful, and that’s why it’s all boiling over and hitting her now.

Fortunately, Emily finds a solution that might help. First, she manages to fix Garcia’s mug. Second, she tracks down Carlos, and convinces him to come pay Garcia a much-needed visit. Garcia is surprised, but happy, to see him, and says she understands why he distanced himself last season. Carlos, meanwhile, apologizes for not being aware of what she’d recently been through with her kidnapping. He admits that he’s still bothered by her stance regarding the man who killed their parents, but knows her reasons were genuine. They then agree to work on repairing their relationship, much to Garcia’s relief.

I absolutely loved the scenes with Emily and Garcia here. We’re so used to seeing Garcia turn to Morgan when she’s struggling with something, to the point where, even after he’d left the team, they still brought him back to help Garcia through some other tough times. I love Morgan and Garcia’s friendship, of course, and appreciate the way he’s always been there for her when she needs him. But obviously, he’s not part of the team anymore, and they can’t keep expecting to bring him back every time Garcia has a problem.

So it was really nice to see Garcia have to turn to somebody else for a change, and to turn to Emily at that. For as close of friends as these two are, we haven’t really had a lot of heart-to-heart moments between them over the course of the show’s run, and when we have, usually it was Garcia trying to cheer Emily up. Having Emily be the one to try and make Garcia smile again was really fun to watch, and yet she also knew just how to talk to Garcia in a way that showed she understood.

And I mean really understood – when she was explaining to Garcia what it’s like to have all of one’s past stress collapse in on them, you just know she was thinking of her own experience with that same kind of situation. We all saw how tough it was for her to move past Doyle, and we’ve seen her have to relive painful memories from her own younger days, and deal with the effects of shutting herself off from others. She’s been there. She gets it. So that made it all the more appropriate for her to be the one to talk to Garcia.

I also appreciated the show bringing back Garcia’s brother Carlos. I enjoyed getting to know her family a little better last season, and had wanted to see if and how they’d manage to reconcile after all that happened with the parole hearing. I’m glad the show touched on that again, and I hope we can see Carlos pop up again every so often, or at least hear the occasional mention of him from Garcia. It’d be fun to see how their relationship develops from here.

As nice as it was to see Carlos, however, I can’t help feeling that that ending seemed a little too tidy? I’m glad that they didn’t have Carlos immediately shrugging off his feelings about Garcia’s actions last season – I can sympathize with Garcia, but I also totally understand why Carlos was upset. And I get that their reunion is only the start of them patching things up. But it all also kinda read like, “Well, now Garcia’s brother’s here and she’ll be okay and all is well.” That may be a nice sentiment, but let’s consider all that Garcia’s been through here. I get she’s a bubbly, optimistic person and I love that about her, but I feel like this shouldn’t be a storyline that gets resolved this quickly, and yet you know going forward that we probably will get little to no further mention of her struggles the rest of this season.

This isn’t a complaint that’s unique to Garcia, mind – the show’s been guilty of doing that with the rest of the team members when dealing with the aftermath of something big they’ve been through in the past. But still, it’s worth noting anyway. I hope we can see the show touch on how Garcia’s doing again, and I hope that can apply to the rest of the team with any issues they’re dealing with as well.

In the meantime, Halloween is upon us, and if the promo for the next episode is any indication, it’ll be a perfect opportunity to scare ourselves silly, so looking forward to discussing that one with you all!

What did you think of the episode? Did you suspect Jacob early on? If not, who were you initially suspecting to be the killer between Danny and the pastor? Did you enjoy the talk between Garcia and Emily? Did the end of her storyline feel complete to you, or do you think there’s more they could explore with her? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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