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Criminal Minds - Luke - Review: “Revenge”

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Well, folks, it’s that time again: another opportunity for an episode named after a team member. Everyone tends to brace themselves when those episodes come up, because bad things always wind up happening to the team member in question. This episode was no exception, as Luke had to deal with a case that got very personal very fast. It was a case that seemed fairly reminiscent of some of the other big personal cases team members have had to deal with, which did rob the story of some unpredictability, and it trafficked in some of the same tropes that I wish the show could move away from. Still, there were a few interesting twists along the way, and the emotional aspect was well done and intense in all the right ways.

On the plus side, we did get to learn a little more about Luke in the process, which is good. The show’s dropped some interesting little tidbits about him throughout these last couple seasons, and it was nice to see some of that stuff come into play here. I also enjoyed seeing his friend Phil, whom we’ve gotten to know a bit through a couple prior episodes, as well as his girlfriend Lisa. And there were some really good team and character moments in general, and Rodriguez himself did a great job of bringing out different aspects of Luke throughout the episode.

So, let’s take the time to get to know Luke Alvez better, shall we?

The Case:

“Classic Luke Alvez: Willing to go it alone.”

The opening sequence gives us absolutely no hint of the craziness to come, as Luke’s day starts off pretty tame and uneventful. His girlfriend Lisa has just recently moved into his place, and they’re settling nicely into their new life together. Garcia has sent along a few gifts, including a portrait that’s kind of weird, but which Lisa happens to quite like. The only complaint Lisa has about Luke is that he’s pretty tight-lipped about his work, an issue to which Luke’s friend Phil can relate. He’s popped by for a visit, and all’s going good with him, too. He’s got a nice, steady job, he still has, and adores, the wonderful dog that Luke and Garcia gifted him last season...and speaking of Garcia, he seems to have a romantic interest in her!

It’s an interest that Garcia seems to share, as she asks Luke about Phil when he arrives to work. Luke doesn’t seem all that eager to play matchmaker, though, but even if he were, he wouldn’t get the chance, as the team has a case to attend to.

And that’s when all hell starts to break loose.

The case seems to start off fairly simple: three men have all been recently murdered via bullet to the head, and the unsub makes them swallow bleach before murdering them. The main complication is that all the murders happened in different states; otherwise, these all seem like perfectly innocent men who didn’t seem like typical high-risk targets. Despite that fact, given the particular method of torture and murder, the team still decides to look into the possibility that they were part of a hit list, or may have been witnesses to some crime the unsub had committed. Or they may be the target of a moral enforcer. News of a fourth victim only puts the pressure on further.

The witness angle doesn’t seem to pan out, but a new theory emerges when Luke notices something disturbing about the unsub’s M.O. It’s very similar to the sort used by Mexican drug cartels. More specifically, a cartel run by a man named Eduardo Ramos. Luke’s familiar with that man’s work, having hunted him down while working with the DEA five years ago. The bleach is to silence the victims, before finally putting them out of their misery for good. And he’s absolutely ruthless. He’ll kill men, women, and children. Yeesh.

Luke’s unit came very close to capturing Ramos about five years back. Luke and Phil had insisted on arresting him, as they didn’t want to use the same kind of violent tactics they were trying to stop people like him from using. A valid argument, but it’s one that doesn’t really sit well with Grant or other members of the team, who were eager to take him out once and for all.

Unfortunately, Ramos got the slip, and after some time in prison, managed to escape. And now Ramos is coming back to hunt down and kill whomever ratted Ramos out and put him in prison. Phil thinks the latest victim might be the rat, but why kill the other men? Luke thinks it’s because they all abandoned Ramos when he was in prison. Looks like we’ve got a revenge plot setting up here.

Or do we? Turns out Ramos can’t be the unsub, because it’s kind of hard to kill people when you’re dead. Yes, turns out he was murdered recently, and in the exact same manner as all the other recent victims at that, essentially using Ramos’ M.O. against him. Ramos certainly has no shortage of possible enemies who’d want to take him out, but when Luke investigates the crime scene of yet another victim, he has a suspicion who their unsub might be. He notices some tobacco residue on the wall, next to the blood splatter (gross), and there’s only one person he knows who would leave that kind of evidence behind. Somebody who would’ve been itching to get at Ramos. It’s Jeremy Grant.

And Grant’s motive for taking out Ramos runs pretty deep. As the team soon learns, Ramos had killed Grant’s entire family while Grant was away on a mission, and he’d used his M.O. to murder them. Grant made the horrifying discovery upon returning home. Damn. The way Grant sees it, if he’d been allowed to kill Ramos back then, he reasons, maybe his family would’ve survived. So now he’s out there seeking revenge on everyone he blames for letting Ramos get away, wanting to make them suffer the way he’s suffered.

While the team tries to gather any remaining potential targets to put them into protective custody, Luke manages to get in touch with Grant, and pleads with him to stop his killing spree. Grant isn’t swayed, though...and warns Luke that, because of his decision that ultimately led to the deaths of Grant’s family, he too will suffer a horrific loss soon.

Naturally, Luke’s first thought is of Lisa, and he makes a mad dash home to try and warn her of what’s going on. Thankfully, she’s fine. Grant never even got anywhere near their house. She is understandably freaked out over Luke’s initial panic and the idea that he’s in danger, though. But any relief Luke feels is extremely short-lived, as it suddenly hits him what Grant really meant with his threat. Keep in mind that all of Grant’s victims have been men, and they’ve all been people connected to both the cartel and the efforts to take Ramos down.

Phil, you’ll recall, was part of the team alongside Luke and Grant. He’s the next person on the hit list. Luke hurries to Phil’s place to warn him, too...but to his, and our, horror, this time, he’s far too late. He’s greeted with the sight of his deceased friend, and the pain and anger in his face is utterly heartwrenching.

A short time later, Luke returns to the BAU, with Phil’s dog Lou in tow, and he’s clearly in a bad headspace. He meets with Emily in her office, and she reminds him that he needs to stay off this case going forward, given all that’s happened thus far and the fact that he’s a possible target. It’s a logical order, of course, and Luke makes it clear he completely understands her decision. He’s not happy about it, but he understands it. All is settled, then. Luke will stay behind and handle arrangements, occasionally checking in, while the team will take down Grant.

And if you believe that last sentence above, I have a bridge in Florida to sell you. Anyone who’s watched this show for any length of time knows that none of these team members understand the concept of sitting on the sidelines, and even while he was in the office, it was pretty clear what Luke was planning to do. He’s going to take Grant out himself. He even goes so far as to tell Lisa to pack a bag and go somewhere safe, and heads out to a secret place that only he and Phil knew about, one that stores fake IDs and other means of disguise that they’d used during their time doing undercover operations. He also threatens a guy at gunpoint into telling him where Grant’s gone. Yeah, Luke ain’t playing around here.

Luckily, Emily knows her teammates well enough by this point that she could sense Luke wasn’t going to follow her orders, and asks Garcia to try tracking his whereabouts. Sure enough, she finds out his plans, and now she and the team must track down both Grant and Luke, and attempt to stop a potentially deadly showdown.

Turns out Grant’s hiding out in Baltimore, trying to find a new means of escape. Once Luke tracks him down, a chase ensues, and soon Luke manages to get the upper hand, taking Grant down and preparing to shoot him.

“I told you you had to sit this one out.”

Before he can pull the trigger, however, the team arrives, and Luke has a moment of clarity, realizing that he’s close to becoming what he warned Grant not to be. That manages to get him to back off, while Matt carefully sneaks in to grab the gun away. Grant is then hauled away, while Emily stays behind – but she’s not there for a quiet chat. No, she chews Luke out hard, scolding him for disobeying a direct order and putting himself and his job at such extreme risk. She tells him that he’s been demoted, and is to stay out of the field for the foreseeable future, until he earns his way back. Dang.

“You’re safe with me.”

Luke’s day seems like it's going to go from bad to worse upon his return home. Lisa’s seriously considering moving out, because of all that’s just happened, but she gives Luke an opportunity to explain himself. He then opens up to her about Phil. He reminisces about when they first met eleven years ago, while working a case in which a little girl died. He held that child in his arms, and broke down over that child’s death. Phil was there to support him, being the first person Luke felt comfortable crying around. When Phil lost his legs some years later, they cried together over that tragedy, too. They allowed each other to be vulnerable and safe.

It’s that vulnerability that Lisa now sees, as Luke starts crying in front of her, and you’d have to be made of stone to walk away from Luke in this moment. Fortunately, Lisa is not made of stone, and hugs Luke as he mourns his friend’s death. And on that bittersweet, heartbreaking note, the episode ends.

So let’s just get this out of the way right now: I really wish they hadn’t killed Phil off. First and foremost, because I liked the guy from the few times he’s popped up, and I liked his friendship with Luke and wanted to see more of it. And second, because this show’s used the whole “kill somebody close to a team member” storyline before numerous times, and it would’ve been nice to not go that route. I get that Grant wanted to make others suffer the way he suffered with his family being murdered, but even if they wanted to put Phil in danger, at the very least they could’ve had Luke save him in time.

Or maybe they could’ve had Grant’s reason for targeting these men not be so personally motivated in the first place, and found another way to taunt Luke, one that didn’t require putting people he cared about in danger in the process. It’s especially frustrating considering the unsub’s pattern – all his victims were men, so one would think Luke and the team would’ve caught on to Phil being the target sooner. But I can kind of understand that mistake, because in that situation, panic would kick in and you won’t always be thinking clearly.

Which, incidentally, brings me to the next point that’s caused some debate, both by me and by many in the fandom in general, and that involves Emily punishing Luke. My initial reaction to this was pretty similar to most fans’: sure, we all understand why she did it, but it did feel rather hypocritical, considering all the other stuff team members, Emily included, have managed to get by with over the years.

After further discussion and reflection, though, I tend to agree with the view some have put forth that Emily’s criticism of Luke was coming from the perspective of, ‘I’ve been in your shoes, don’t do what I did.” During their time working together, I've noticed that Emily and Luke seem to really “get” each other. You’ll remember shortly after Luke joined the team, he asked her to keep his past between them. She talked to him about his struggle over letting Scratch fall to his death, knowing what it’s like to decide whether to let an unsub live or die. And naturally she’d be wise to Luke’s plan to seek revenge, because she too knows what it’s like to go rogue and avenge somebody’s death. So if anyone’s going to essentially try and prevent Luke from making similar mistakes again, it’s only logical that it’d be her, whether she was unit chief or not.

Emily’s criticism of Luke was also interesting from the standpoint of seeing her no-nonsense side come out. Thus far, she’s tended to take a little gentler hand with the team, compared to Hotch, and it’s a decision that’s worked well for her. She doesn’t have to try and emulate a style of leadership that just wouldn’t fit her. And I like that the team’s been just as respectful towards her as they were towards Hotch, proving that different types of leadership can be equally valid and worthwhile.

But there’s moments when she does have to be a little more firm, and I like that we got to see that here. It wasn’t stated aloud, but I can’t help suspecting Barnes’ investigation into the team last season may be forcing her to be a little tougher as a result, and it has me wondering if and when we’ll see this side of her again.

The big consensus at the end of the day, which, again, I fully agree with, is that while it’s nice to see somebody face legitimate consequences for their actions, it would be a little more meaningful if those consequences applied across the board. When other team members defied an order, or stayed on a case that was too personal for them, they should’ve received the same punishment that Luke got. I’d like to hope that this is the start of that kind of change, and that we can actually see Luke deal with the consequences of his actions, but I’m not going to hold my breath on that. I’m willing to be pleasantly surprised, though, because I do think there could be some interesting stories to tell with Luke being forced to stay behind.

Those main criticisms aside, there was still plenty to like about this episode. Adam Rodriguez did a great job of bringing the emotion throughout, and highlighted so much of what’s made Luke such an interesting character these past couple years. Seeing his darker side again gave the episode some real intensity. It’s a side we’ve seen before, of course – you’ll remember that he threatened Shaw and one-upped him in order to protect Reid when he was in prison. He was also eager to take down the Crimson King in his first episode, for what he’d done to Phil. Knowing this otherwise sweet, kinda goofy, charming guy can go gray and shady makes for an intriguing contrast.

And yet, I love that we still got to see Luke’s softer side on full display as well. The idea that he made a point of mentioning how he never really felt comfortable crying in front of people until he met Phil is an interesting tidbit, one I’d like to see explored more. Was there a particular reason he felt he had to put on a brave face before then? I think it’s telling that he wasn’t afraid to show emotion in front of Emily when seeing her in her office. As I noted above, these two seem to really “get” each other, so It makes sense he could be vulnerable in front of her. Plus, I just like the idea that he feels so accepted in the BAU to where he knows he can show emotion if need be in general.

I also liked how they handled everything with Luke and Lisa this episode. It makes perfect sense that she’d be nervous about living with him after all of this – I know that people always say that the significant other should know what they’re getting into when they date or marry somebody in a dangerous line of work. But it’s one thing to think you can handle it, it’s another entirely when you actually have to experience it (or at least, in this case, be reminded that that threat is real).

Still, it was good that she allowed Luke a chance to explain himself and his actions, and is willing to understand. Much as I can sympathize with the stress and worry people like Haley and Will had to deal with all these years, I do like getting to explore the other side, with the understanding loved one, and I’m glad we’ve been getting more of that in recent years. Plus, these guys seem sweet together, and I want more happy couples on this show. I especially appreciated the way they subverted the whole thing of Lisa possibly being in danger. Lord knows the last thing we need on this show is yet another team member losing a wife or girlfriend, after all.

There were also some clever, subtle moments with the other team members this episode. I loved the way Matt gently, carefully pried the gun out of Luke’s hands. He too would know that killing Grant wasn’t worth it, as he was in a similar situation with the unsub who threatened his wife last season. JJ and Emily trying to analyze Grant’s motives and plans was a good nod to their experience tracking other dangerous unsubs like Askari and Doyle, respectively. And Reid being familiar with possible ways Grant could try and sneak out of the country seemed like a bit of a nod to his experience sneaking over to Mexico a couple seasons ago. I like these little moments when we get to see the team click like this, and use their personal experience and knowledge to help with a case.

And while it obviously didn’t pan out, the idea of Phil and Garcia being kinda sweet on each other, while unexpected, was cute. Another reason I wish Phil could’ve survived: I would’ve been interested to see what could’ve come of that. I know Garcia’s still got Sergio, but I won’t be surprised if she adopts Lou, too, given she was responsible for giving Phil that dog. Would be a nice gesture.

I also hope that we’ll continue to learn more about Luke as time goes on. I’d especially like to learn more about his time in the military, as well as his family and childhood. I think there can be some good stories to mine there as well.

And finally, I need to give a nod to Joe Mantegna’s directing for this episode. I especially liked the use of closeups throughout, as it added to the tense nature of the story, and the transition into flashback sequences was well done. Having a cast member direct also tends to make the emotional moments that much stronger as well, and this episode seems to be further proof of that.

So now that Luke has joined the growing list of people who get episodes named after them, I wonder who might be next, if anyone? I think it’s safe to say that whichever team member gets an episode named after them going forward should probably brace themselves. In the meantime, however, it seems we’re back to the usual case of the week stuff going forward, so they can probably breathe a little easily. For now, anyway.

What did you think of the episode? Did you enjoy getting to learn more about Luke? Were you sad to see Phil killed off? What do you think about Emily punishing Luke? What other aspects of his life would you want to learn more about? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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