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Criminal Minds - Ashley - Review: “Creating a Family”

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And we’re back! Hope those who celebrated Thanksgiving had a lovely holiday break!

Okay, hands up, who among you, upon seeing this episode’s title, thought it’d involve former team member Ashley Seaver somehow?

I certainly did. It’d be a fair assumption to make, considering this show’s penchant for naming episodes after team members. And given the short nature of the current season, and the talk among fans as to whether or not the show’s winding down for good, it’s logical to assume they might want to reference or try and get a few familiar faces at some point before all is said and done. There hasn’t been a hint at any storylines of that sort thus far, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t happen at all.

Obviously, however, that assumption turned out to be wrong. Instead, this episode was in the vein of prior episodes like “Gabby” and “Hope”, in which the name refers to the victim of the week (though “Hope” had other meanings to its title as well). There were some notable similarities between “Gabby” and this episode, but thankfully, it didn’t turn out to be a straight up replica, and went a few places I hadn’t expected. There was also some well-done tension throughout, and some genuinely heartbreaking moments, which helped keep me interested in the case overall.

To balance out the disturbing nature of the case, we also got a nice side story involving Rossi that ended with him making a huge step forward in his personal life. Before we get into that story, however, let’s learn about Ashley.

The Case:

It’s late at night, and a man is pulling into a driveway. He enters the house, removes his coat, doesn’t even bother to turn on any lights, and heads upstairs. An exhausted man returning home after a long day...he’s totally going to be the first victim, right?

Nope. Turns out he’s the unsub, and a pretty brazen one at that. He enters the bedroom of the couple living there...and proceeds to shoot them! Unfortunately, they’re not the only ones in the house. The noise and screams wake their young daughter, and she immediately dives under her bed. The tension is palpable as she hears the unsub come into her room and start walking around. She tries to stay as quiet as possible, but it’s no use – the unsub suddenly grabs her (no lie, I flinched at this scene). And so begins our latest case.

The little girl’s name is Ruby. She’s eight years old, and she’s currently missing. Her parents sadly did not survive the shooting. The team immediately looks into the possibility that the unsub is either somebody the family knew or was related to, but they have no relatives in the area, and an investigation of the family’s friends rules them out. This leaves the team with a few other unsettling possibilities. Ruby’s dad was a public defender, so revenge could be an issue. Her parents seemed to have a few possible financial struggles, so perhaps Ruby was taken in response to some kind of debt the unsub felt her parents owed him. And of course, there’s the horrifying fear that a sex offender could be running rampant. The statistics regarding child abductions are grim, so there's no time to lose.

Further investigation into the family’s finances seems to indicate that while they had some issues, their loans they got to help with those problems were above board, and the revenge angle doesn’t seem to pan out, either. Sex offenders are still a possibility, but, as Reid points out, this crime doesn’t really fit the profile of a typical pedophile. The big question is how the unsub managed to sneak in and out without being detected, and how did he know his way around the home. He must have some kind of familiarity with the house and the family’s routine, which, if a relative or friend isn’t involved, indicates the family’s got a stalker. As if this case wasn’t creepy enough. If the family was being stalked, however, there’s a chance the unsub may believe they’re “rescuing” Ruby from her parents, which could at least bode well for her survival chances.

Emily and Rossi head out to a cafe that the family liked to frequent, and interview the manager of the place, a lady named Jane. She’s familiar with Ruby’s mom in particular, and starts to talk about the family a bit. But she’s soon interrupted by a shocking turn of events, as Ruby shows up in the cafe! Before the team can do anything in response, however, Ruby tearfully tells Jane, “He says you’re my mommy now,” before collapsing. She’s immediately rushed to the hospital, and Emily and Rossi head outside to try and find the unsub, but he’s managed to slip away.

The good news is that Ruby shows no signs of physical or sexual trauma. The bad news, of course, is that she’s clearly suffered some emotional trauma, and the team fears that now the unsub’s done with Ruby, he’s likely plotting yet another kidnapping. Sure enough, shortly afterward we see the unsub kill another couple, and despite a valiant fight to escape by their daughter, Naomi, the unsub snatches her away, too. This attack plays out a little differently from the first one, however, in that the parents aren’t sleeping together in their room. The husband was on the couch, thus indicating some sort of marital spat. Between that issue and Ruby’s parents’ financial situation, perhaps the unsub feels these parents aren’t good enough for these kids, and wants to put them with Jane, who he apparently believes is a more “deserving” parent.

“All my regulars, they’re nice. This is a nice town, we are nice people.”

Back at the hospital, Tara stays vigil over Ruby. Jane pays a visit as well, and brings some of Ruby’s favorite treats to try and cheer her up. Tara suggested the treats, because, as she notes, if Jane is essential to the unsub’s plan, and if Ruby has enough familiarity with this cafe, maybe the smell of the food will trigger a memory for her regarding their unsub. At this point, Ruby wakes up, and she and Tara talk a bit about what happened. She doesn’t know the man who took her, but she does share that he made her wear dresses and trained her to say, “You’re my mommy now.” She also asks for her mom in the most heartbreaking voice, and have I mentioned that I do not envy these people’s job? Tara does her best to comfort Ruby, and promises her that she and the team will do all they can to protect her.

It’s at this point that Reid makes a very interesting discovery that could further explain the unsub’s motive. Given the team’s belief this guy stalks these families, he would naturally look into every aspect of their lives, and that means he would learn the same thing the team learns about both Ruby and Naomi: they’re adopted. Since the unsub looks to be judging what he sees as the parents’ “bad” behavior, he’s likely trying to re-home these girls, picking somebody the child is familiar with and trusts to care for them instead.

And if he reacts that strongly to the issue of adoption, he himself may be an adopted child as well, and had issues with his own foster parents. Either that, or he had to put his own child up for adoption. And considering how experienced he seems to be with killing and abducting people, chances are good he may have killed the people who adopted his child. A search for similar murders leads the team to a news story about a couple who was murdered in their car two weeks ago in another state. They’d adopted a little girl named Ashley some time back, and a photo shows her wearing the same dress the unsub made Ruby, and now Naomi, wear, thus confirming this case is connected.

Tragically, Ashley had died the year before. Her death wasn’t the parents’ doing, it was the result of a congenital heart defect. But if Ashley’s the unsub’s daughter, in his grief, he would’ve blamed her adoptive parents anyway, perhaps believing they didn’t do more to save her.

The team concludes that their unsub must work within the adoption system, which would explain his deep knowledge of the families and their lives. They agree to keep that fact out of the media, in the hopes that the unsub will trip up and reveal himself, but unfortunately, that plan is thwarted when the local news ambushes Jane for an interview regarding the case. Somehow, this information was leaked out, and that concerns the team, as it means the unsub, now he knows Ruby isn’t with Jane like he’d planned, may react with anger and change their M.O.

It’s at this point we see how Naomi’s faring in the unsub’s clutches. Physically, she’s all right, but we can see he’s full on transformed her into his beloved Ashley. He takes her for a ride, and the two of them stop at a convenience store along the way. The clerk happens to catch the news report about Naomi going missing, and realizes he’s got the suspect in his store. Problem is, the unsub knows the clerk’s on to him. He proceeds to kill the man, and takes off yet again with Naomi.

Meanwhile, JJ and Reid talk to the social worker who knew Naomi’s family, and mention the deaths of both Ashley and her parents, to see if that jogs his memory. Turns out he’s very familiar with Ashley, having also set her up with her adoptive parents. He’d gone to her funeral as well. When asked about Ashley’s biological parents, he reveals that Ashley’s mom had voluntarily surrendered Ashley to the hospital...without her father knowing about it. As a result, upon finding out about his wife surrendering their child, he got into working in the adoption system to try and hunt for his daughter.

He then reveals that the couple who adopted Ashley had created a “look book”, with pictures and information that laid out their lives. These books are common in adoption agencies, a way for prospective parents to essentially promote themselves and highlight why they’re the right choice for a child. Voila, we have our explanation for how the unsub knows so much about these people.

So now the team’s got the unsub’s name, Jordan, and they know where he’s going. He’s taking “Ashley” to the home of his ex, Becky, in the hopes of recreating the family, and the life, he’d lost. His attempts aren’t going very well, though, as Becky is naturally unnerved by this entire situation. She mentions Jordan being mean in the past, and that makes him fly into a rage and attack her.

The arrival of Emily and Rossi only further agitates Jordan, and he tries to shoot at them. Rossi takes charge at this point, attempting to talk Jordan down, and he uses a trick Emily came up with to help calm Jordan. With Garcia’s help, Rossi asks Jordan to look at Becky’s television screen. He sees a video montage of Ashley, the one that was played at her funeral service, with footage and pictures of her smiling and playing with her adoptive parents. Rossi gently reminds Jordan that while Ashley was here, she was happy and loved, and tells Jordan he needs to learn to let her go. The ruse works, as Jordan breaks down, his illusion shattered, and the team takes that opportunity to quietly arrest him and lead him away. Becky takes a moment to watch the video as well, before Emily ushers her away, too.

I do feel that Jordan’s change in demeanor upon seeing the video of Ashley seemed a bit abrupt (for a while there I thought he’d ultimately commit suicide), and I also feel it was kind of a risky plan, given how violent he was. That said, however, I will freely admit to getting all choked up at that scene anyway, and I did like that we got to see the depths of Jordan’s grief and despair over losing his daughter. It’d been kind of hard to really sympathize with him throughout the episode, given the hell he was putting these children through and the disturbing nature of his home invasions, but that ending did well at making me feel for him a little bit more. And my heart flat out broke for Becky. Her reactions felt very believable, and I could just imagine the thoughts running through her mind.

I also like that the story didn’t go quite where I thought it originally might go. At first, I thought maybe the unsub was somebody who’d grown up in an abusive home and was retaliating, trying to save other kids, and the fact the team considered that possibility had me convinced that’s how it would play out. Either that, or I thought we had another “Gabby” situation on our hands, where creepy people were kidnapping kids and re-homing them for personal gain.

But then Ruby showed up at the cafe, which was a genuine surprise, and I especially liked the idea of the unsub trying to put these kids with a specific person he thought would be a “better” parent, rather than just picking people at random. In fact, I wish Jane had a much bigger role throughout the episode – I would’ve liked to see maybe an example or two of Jordan observing Ruby's family and appreciating the way she treated the girl, or a moment where Jane unknowingly interacted with him in a way that he liked, especially given his antagonistic relationship with Becky. Something to further enhance the connection, and show the unsub’s deep trust in her.

And I think it would’ve been particularly interesting to delve further into how Jane reacted to the idea that the unsub viewed her as this trustworthy parental figure. There was no mention of her having any children of her own, yet she was so gentle and kind with Ruby in the hospital. Did this entire ordeal have an impact on her in that regard? Would this situation make her wary of any adults who come in with children now? I just think there was a lot more to the aftermath of this case, both with Jane and the two girls, that could’ve been interesting to explore further.

Like with last week’s episode, I liked the team interaction and individual contributions throughout. Emily and Rossi made a good tag team with their attempts to keep everything under control. It made sense that Reid would be the one to focus on the genetic aspect with the families. Tara’s scenes with Ruby in the hospital were quite touching and sweet – she was just the kind of calm presence Ruby needed. And I liked the way JJ was able to connect with the social worker, and that Garcia got to use her tech skills in a unique way by helping with the video footage of Ashley. Matt and Luke’s contributions weren’t as major, but I did like that they got to make a couple observations of their own along the way as well.

All in all, this was a good, simple case of the week. Given how sad it was, though, that made the lighter and happier personal storylines all the more welcome, and there were no shortage of them this episode.

Meanwhile, back at Quantico:

The first piece of good news: Reid’s preparing for yet another teaching gig. There is one downside to that, as it means he’ll likely be absent for the next episode or two, but still, it’s nice to know his absence will be for a good reason this time. The topic he’ll be discussing seems pretty interesting, too, albeit dark: he’ll be discussing medieval violence in criminology. He’s pretty “stoked” (his words) about it, but JJ doesn’t seem quite as eager to listen to him talk at length about such an unusual topic, so Reid winds up talking Matt’s ear off instead.

Meanwhile, Emily checks in with Luke, complimenting him on his work in the field on their last case. He’s done so well, in fact, that she’s looking at full reinstatement for him. Yay! Since it’s not a done deal yet, however, for now, Luke had to remain at the office and work with Garcia this episode. Garcia didn’t seem quite as enthused by the setup (in a “protest too much” sort of way), but Luke wasn’t swayed, going so far as to label the two of them the “Dynamic Duo” at the end of the case. He also helps her out with a rather important event.

“If you marry your third wife for the second time, what color is the dress for that?”

And just what is that “rather important event”, you ask? Well, it involves Rossi and his developing relationship with Krystall. Things have been getting pretty serious between them lately, to the point where Rossi’s considering marriage! Yes, he’s looking to take a fourth trip down the aisle by remarrying his third wife. Ah, love. His plans are nearly ruined by Garcia early on, as Krystall, who’s visiting Rossi at work, happens to overhear her talking to him about buying an engagement ring. Krystall tries to explain to Rossi she doesn’t need a ring, reassuring him things are fine as is.

Rossi talks to Emily briefly about his plans at one point, and she encourages him not to wait to try and make things “perfect”. Once the case is over, he takes her advice. They find themselves in the BAU building elevator, and Rossi decides that’s the time to get all romantic. He stops the elevator, and proceeds to give a lovely speech about second chances, and wanting to do their vows right this time. He even throws in a silly Elvis impression for good measure, as a means of trying to further charm her. He then gets down on one knee and does a proper proposal...and Krystall says yes! When they arrive on the sixth floor, they’re greeted by the rest of the team, and there’s celebrations and champagne galore. Looks like we have another wedding on our hands down the line, then!

I will admit to finding the idea of remarrying one’s third spouse a little odd in and of itself, and it is kind of surprising to see just how quickly Rossi and Krystall’s relationship has played out. But I do like Krystall, and she and Rossi have a nice chemistry, and the proposal was cute, so all in all, I’m okay with them getting married. I would be interested to see how Joy will fit into all of this, however, and what her thoughts are on her dad marrying Krystall again instead of Hayden. I would think that’d cause a bit of awkwardness, but maybe not. Either way, I think this is a perfect opportunity for a heart-to-heart between them. Plus, it’d be fun to see Joy interacting with Krystall and her family. I feel like she and Portia could hit it off.

As for Reid, I’m happy to see them continuing with his interest in teaching, and hopefully, we’ll get some updates on how that’s going, either from one of the other team members, or from Reid himself when he returns from his sabbatical. I know some took issue with JJ’s reaction to Reid starting in on one of his rambles, but it was early, so maybe she just wasn’t ready yet for a lecture?

Regarding Luke, I like that his time in the field last episode was treated as the one-off it was intended to be, but I’m also not surprised that the show will likely have him fully reinstated soon. On the one hand, it will be nice to have things back to normal with him, but on the other hand, I still think there’s some interesting things they could continue to do with him back at the office worth exploring, too.

I do agree with the general sentiment about Garcia’s attitude towards him this episode. I get that her demeanor is her way of trying to not create a Morgan 2.0 situation, but she’s been letting down her guard big time around him lately, to the point where she sent him and Lisa a housewarming gift when they moved in together. There’s no real need for her to go back to that “walls up” demeanor at this point. The only reason I could see her doing that is if she’s just having a bit of fun with him, and maybe that’s what she was trying to do here, but it came off more like genuine annoyance instead. It’d be nice to see her go back to the sweeter interactions with Luke, and let them properly develop a unique friendship of their own, and I hope we get more of that going forward.

Overall, though, it is nice to see the team’s personal lives being a little calmer. How long that’ll last, I don’t know – we’re all aware of how quickly things can change on this show – but I’ll enjoy the peace for however long we get it.

What did you think of the episode? Was the case unpredictable enough for you? Did the unsub seem sympathetic enough? Are you on board with the Rossi/Krystall relationship and potential wedding? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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