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Criminal Minds - Starter Home - Review: “Mummy Issues”

Now that we’ve all had some time to come down from the craziness that was “300”, it’s time to settle back into our typical case-of-the-week routine. These past few seasons, it seems there’s been something of a pattern this early on – start off with a whiz-bang premiere episode, only to have the second episode’s case be routine, predictable, and a little on the boring side.

At first, I’d feared this episode would follow that pattern, and thought early on that I knew where this story would go. And I was all set to write this one off as a case that was kinda “meh”. It still didn’t end up being a super dramatic case in the end or anything like that, but I am happy to report that my initial suspicions were thrown off some. There were a few intriguing little twists here and there, the case was a good mix of creepy and touching, and we got a cute side story as well. So as always, let’s settle in and see how this all played out.

The Case:

We begin with our typical opening, in which innocent people are doing everyday stuff, blissfully unaware of the horror ahead. This go-round, the people in question are a young couple. They’ve brought a cabin, “as is”, out in the woods in South Carolina, in the hopes of making it a cozy little home for themselves and their soon-to-be child.

They're not kidding about the “as is” bit, either – the cabin could be described, at best, as a fixer-upper. There’s grody-looking dishes that have been left behind in the kitchen sink, which I’d think would be more than enough to make any pregnant woman go, “Yeeeeeah, no way in hell is my child going anywhere near this house”, but nope, these guys are gonna make this work. The dishes may not be enough to scare the couple away, but a horrifying discovery within one of the walls certainly will: It’s a mummified body!

Upon finding out about the body, Emily places a call to Rossi, who happens to be in the nearby city of Savannah for other reasons, which I’ll be getting into later on. He agrees to go out and talk to the local cops to see what the deal is, as well as take a look around. Wise decision, too, because thanks to a very keen cadaver dog, Rossi and the local cops soon discover that there’s a LOT of mummified bodies stored away in this cabin. Like, try at least seven bodies, all of which are female. Yeah, I’m thinking that young couple should get a big ol’ reimbursement on their purchase.

Once the team gets the case and arrives in town, Reid and Tara head out to a local nursing home to talk to Dorothy, the woman who used to live in that cabin. Unfortunately, their attempts to talk to her don’t go well; she’s suffering from dementia and barely speaks. The only thing she does manage to say to them is, “It won’t work, it’s not the same!” She never gets a chance to explain what she means by that, either, because soon after, she stabs herself in the neck with a fork and dies (and we get to see it in all its close-up, gruesome detail, too. Thanks, show). Well, that escalated quickly.

Dorothy may be dead, but fortunately, that doesn’t mean the case dies, too. This is a small town, after all, and the cops here are eager to talk about this strange woman. Between their stories and the BAU’s own investigating, the team learns that Dorothy and her husband, Karl, were a very reclusive, eccentric couple. They’d built the cabin back in the 1960s, and lived there up until the day Karl died and Dorothy went to the nursing home. Naturally, the current line of thinking is that these two are responsible for killing these women and burying them, as most of the bodies have been hidden in that cabin for at least twenty years (they’re preserved, so there’s no noticeable odor, but still, ewww). JJ and Luke also discover at one point that the women were mummified while still alive, which is...beyond disturbing. But if this couple did kill these women, the obvious next question is, why?

There’s yet another curious detail to consider as well: two of the victims were killed only within the last year or so. Clearly Karl and Dorothy couldn’t be responsible for those murders, so who is? We soon get our answer in the form of a huge, hulking, intimidating-looking man with the mental capacity of a child. He’s holding a woman named Mary hostage, and at various points, asks her to tend to him as though she were his mom. She plays along a bit, going so far as to feed him and sing him a lullaby (and yes, it’s just as creepy as it sounds). But of course, Mary’s main focus is trying to get the hell out of here, so she spends most of her time trying to fight him off instead.

Seems like a pretty routine, predictable case setting up here, doesn’t it? This guy’s parents are obviously Karl and Dorothy, and he’s carrying on their killing spree.

Ah, wait, not so fast. Turns out there’s a few more twists yet to come. At one point, a woman comes into the station, wanting to speak to the team. Her name’s Leanne, and she’s Karl and Dorothy’s daughter. She acknowledges that yes, her parents were weird, to the point where she would often try and run away from home just to escape the overbearing isolation. But, she insists, they aren’t killers. She also confesses at one point that she had a son, whom she’d abandoned when he was just a baby.

See, it turns out that when Leanne was a teenager, she fell in love with Steve Milburn, the son of a couple who were neighbors of Karl and Dorothy. As tends to happen sometimes with these teenage romances, Leanne soon got pregnant, and her parents tried to take care of the baby, but that only seemed to add to the suffocating strife in the home. Steve’s parents soon volunteered to take care of the baby...but only if Leanne wasn’t involved in any way. The Milburns didn’t like her or her parents, and didn’t want them anywhere near the child. Leanne reluctantly agreed to this plan, leaving her baby with them before running off for good.

Sadly, Steve’s family had its own sad ending soon after – all three of them died in what had long been believed to be a murder-suicide, and it happened right around the same time that Leanne left home. But as Reid and JJ look closer at the case file, they realize there was no suicide at all. The entire Milburn family was murdered. And who killed them? Yep, you guessed it – Karl. He wanted total control of his grandson, and after the murders, he and Dorothy continued to raise the boy in their home for the rest of their lives. This bombshell horrifies Leanne, as she had never heard about the Milburns’ deaths, let alone the fact they were murdered, until now.

So it’s Karl and Dorothy’s grandson who’s actually continuing the killing spree he’d grown up witnessing. The method of killing is the same, the main difference is in regards to the types of women he and his grandparents each targeted. The grandson targeted women who were the same age as his own mom. Karl and Dorothy’s victims, meanwhile, were in their early twenties at the time of their deaths. Apparently, after Leanne ran away, Karl tried to find young women who could replace her, in the hopes of making Dorothy, who’d sunk into her own depression, happy. They mummified the women so that they would never be without a daughter, which, yeesh.

Eventually, the team manages to track down where the grandson is hiding out, and Rossi and Matt nab him. They also find Mary wrapped up underneath the floorboards. She’s clearly traumatized from her ordeal and will no doubt need LOTS of therapy, but she is alive.

The case isn't fully closed yet, however. While at the nursing home, Reid and Tara discovered a stack of letters hidden away in Dorothy’s room. All the letters were written by the women, and it’s revealed that initially, they’d come to stay with the couple while trying to get clean and healthy (they were drug addicts or runaways). The women wanted to reassure their families that they were fine and happy with Karl and Dorothy, believing them to be trustworthy, and assured their loved ones they’d be home soon once they got better. Obviously their trust was all for naught in the end, and those letters never got sent to the families.

Until now, that is. The team wasn't able to send out most of the letters, as many of the women’s families either died or were unable to be reached. However, one person does manage to receive a letter at long last. During the case, the sister of one of the missing women came in and talked to JJ, clearly shaken by the thought that her sister fell victim to a serial killer. She wanted all the answers she could get, and JJ promised to keep in touch with her.

True to form, JJ keeps that promise by giving that woman her sister’s letter at the end of the episode. At least one family may finally be able to find some peace and answers.

I appreciated the little twists regarding the family history throughout this episode. It spiced up what I’d initially feared would otherwise be a rather predictable case, and added some genuine heartbreak to a freaky story. Leanne’s guilt over abandoning her baby, the letters that never got sent, another family being taken out over a custody all enhanced the creepiness of the story, and gave us some much needed people to be genuinely sympathetic towards as well. Dorothy wasn’t around long enough for us to really get to know her well, and Karl we obviously never got to see, so that made it easier for us to focus on the people whose lives were destroyed in some form or another, and I think that helped keep things interesting.

Same applies to Mary – we may not have spent much time with her, but I did enjoy seeing her try and fight back when she could. And who couldn’t sympathize with her as she was forced to act all motherly towards the unsub? It’s always fascinating to see the ways in which the victims try and interact with the people holding them captive, and Mary was no exception. The show also did well at creating a bit of suspense over her fate when Rossi and Matt couldn’t find her initially at the end, to where I actually breathed a sigh of relief when they found her alive.

I also liked the whole thing of the cops sharing stories about Karl and Dorothy. It’s a small town, so of course they’d hear all the rumors and the gossip, and want to join in, and the local stories gave the team a new angle to work with in their investigation. They had to sort rumor from fact, and that added to the uncertainty over where this story would go.

On a personal level, everything with JJ and the sister of one of the victims was quite touching. She’s always been good at connecting with the victims’ loved ones, so it was nice to see yet another example of that, and I like that the show doesn’t need to explain why she immediately connected with a woman who lost her sister. We’ve watched this show long enough, we get it, and leaving it unspoken added to the poignancy of that part of the story.

Conversely, I wish they could’ve done the same when it came to Reid interacting with Dorothy. The show obviously wouldn’t need to state aloud why Reid would know how to communicate with a woman suffering from dementia – like JJ and her sister, we’re all familiar with Reid’s personal history regarding that issue. But still, I would’ve appreciated an instance or two where he found some unique way to communicate with her, if only to perhaps get a little more information out of her before she killed herself.

And this isn’t really a nitpick, just a curious detail: notice we never learned the name of the grandson. I’m guessing that was intentional on some level – this boy bounced from home to home as a baby, was abandoned by his mom, and ultimately raised to become a serial killer by messed up grandparents. So it makes sense that his name wouldn’t be important as a result, because it fits with his lack of love and care. But I could be completely wrong, and it could just be that the show simply forgot to bring up his name, too. Who knows. As unsettling as his treatment of Mary was at times, I did feel for the guy a little. He really didn’t seem to have much of a chance at a decent life from the get-go, and clearly had some mental issues of his own.

Now we’ve got the icky mummy stuff out of the way, let’s move on to a much happier topic, shall we?

What Happens in Savannah…:

So just what was Rossi doing when Emily called? Well, turns out he was spending an intimate weekend in a hotel with...Krystall! Yes, ever since their reunion last season, it seems Rossi has decided to try rekindling things with his third wife, and judging from their flirty banter here, their relationship seems to be moving along pretty nicely thus far.

There’s just one little issue: nobody else knows they’re together yet. Rossi wants to keep things hush-hush because, as he notes, the team has. “a proprietary interest in my love life”, and he wants to enjoy what he’s got for now without all the added questions and scrutiny. Luckily, this setup seems to work just fine for Krystall, because she has yet to tell her daughter Portia about their relationship. She reminds Rossi that the last time her family hung out with him, it ended with Portia’s engagement being called off once Rossi had outed the guy as a creep. As a result, Krystall’s afraid things might still be a little awkward.

“There’s been at least three women who’ve seen you as husband material.”
“Yeah, well, we’ve seen how that worked out.”
“Have we?”

Happily, those fears are put to rest at the end of the episode. Once the case wraps up, Rossi heads out to New York to spend more time with Krystall – and this time, Portia’s in tow. What’s more, Portia’s brought along a new guy, Scott, that she’s been seeing. Fortunately, Scott seems like a much nicer man, and Rossi gives his seal of approval. So now Portia’s happy, Rossi and Krystall are happy, and Rossi’s in good with Krystall’s family. Anyone want to take bets on how long it’ll take before the BAU welcomes Krystall into their extended family?

This was a nice, and welcome, little side story, in contrast to the freaky mummy stuff. I must admit to being a bit surprised that Rossi would be interested in starting up again with a woman he was married and divorced from in the blink of an eye. He and Hayden had Joy to bond over, and Caroline was his first wife, so that made his attempts to reconnect with them understandable.

Still, Rossi and Krystall do have a nice chemistry, and naturally, one assumes they’ve both grown and matured since that whirlwind marriage all those years ago. So on that level, I can understand them wanting to see where this reunion goes. And I did enjoy the way Rossi kinda took on a fatherly role for Portia when he met her last season, trying to look out for her in regards to her skeezy fiance. I’m curious to see how things continue to pan out for these two going forward.

Also, I had to laugh at Rossi trying to keep his relationship a secret. This is the same team who figured out very early on that Will and JJ were seeing each other, despite her belief she’d kept them in the dark for a full year. If the team doesn’t yet know about Rossi and Krystall, I think it’s safe to say they’ll figure out soon enough.

Meanwhile, back at Quantico:

“That’s, like, the job description of everybody who works here: ‘Must go through a lot’.”

On a not-so-happy note, at the start of the episode, we get a brief chat between Emily and Garcia regarding how she’s handling the aftermath of the events of the season premiere. Emily reminds Garcia of the importance of taking some time off to regroup and deal with what she’s been through, but Garcia insists she’s fine. Of course, anyone who’s watched this show for any length of time knows that when somebody says, “I’m fine”, they’re usually straight up lying, so it’ll be interesting to see how Garcia continues to deal with her personal struggles.

I will say, though, that I do wish they could’ve touched on this a little more throughout the episode. From what I’ve read elsewhere, we’ll continue to touch on Garcia’s problems for a while longer this season, but still, it is kind of frustrating to have an episode where all this intense stuff happens, only for the next episode to just give us a line or two discussing how the team members affected are dealing. Maybe we could’ve seen a little more of Garcia’s odd behavior throughout, or maybe the other team members could’ve made a mention or two of their own concerns regarding her (or heck, discussed how they’re faring). Just something to help further lay the groundwork for however the show plans to touch on the aftermath this season would’ve been nice. The season’s still young, though, so I do look forward to seeing whatever they do have planned going forward.

What did you think of the episode? Did you see the twists in the case coming, or were you pleasantly surprised? Do you like Rossi and Krystall as a couple? Should it be a rule that the next time any team member says, “I’m fine”, they automatically must take time off no matter what? Share your thoughts in the comments!


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