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Criminal Minds - Hamelin - Review: “Follow Me”

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Gotta love CBS and their wonky scheduling, huh? Return from the holidays with two new episodes, then take a random two week break. The scheduling seems even more odd when you consider the fact that as of now, we’ve only got three episodes remaining in season fourteen. Time sure flies, doesn’t it?

But luckily, we’re back now, and there doesn’t look to be any further breaks going forward as the season winds down. Before those episodes air, however, let’s discuss this most recent one, which I’m happy to report was a significant improvement over “Night Lights”. The case in this episode was genuinely interesting and creepy, with a few good twists and turns along the way, we got a nice side story with one of the team members, and we got the whole gang back together to boot! There were a few minor quibbles, yes, but all in all, this will definitely rank among the stronger episodes of the season. So let’s refresh our memories, shall we, and discuss the events of “Hamelin”.

The Case:

Heeeey, we’re back in my home state of Iowa for this case, in the small (and fictional) town of Wesser. And this episode does not waste any time whatsoever in getting into the creepy premise, as we begin with a boy being awakened in the middle of the night by a strange voice. It’s saying something that’s hard for us to make out, but which he seems to understand just fine. The boy then gets out of bed and leaves his room, passing by his still sleeping parents’ room along the way. He keeps on walking, out the front door, into the street...and all the way over to a nearby playground, settling on a swing.

Pretty weird, huh? Well, things get even more bizarre, as another boy soon comes over and joins him, as does a girl. And as we look at their faces, they all look like they’ve been deeply hypnotized. There’s one hell of a haunting way to kick things off.

The team gets the case the following day, and this is what they know so far: all three of the above children are ten years old, and they’ve apparently been abducted. All were reported missing by their parents, and there’s no forced entry into the homes. Tara initially wonders if the kids had just decided to go outside to have some kind of fun adventure and got lost, but Emily notes that it was near freezing that night, yet the kids just left in nothing but their pajamas. It’s clear something more sinister is going n here, so the team gets ready to head out, with the exception of JJ, who’ll be staying behind for personal reasons. More on that later.

Before the team can board the jet, however, Garcia comes running out to show them some security footage from the night of the abductions. That’s when the team sees all three kids at the playground. Things get even more ominous when a white van pulls up nearby, and all of the children immediately walk right toward it, climbing right inside. One boy appears to show a brief moment of hesitation, but a hand reaches out and yanks him into the van. Very disturbing.

There’s no ransom demand, so despite the use of a creepy van, this doesn’t look like a kidnapping – at least, not a typical one, anyway. There’s always the possibility of a pedophile, but that, thankfully, doesn’t seem very likely, either, as pedophiles typically don’t take multiple children at once. All of the children came from good homes, too, so as of now, there’s no reason to suspect any family members of being involved.

“How do we know that this maniac isn’t going to take more?”

Upon arriving, Emily heads out to the station, and while there, another man comes storming in with his own wife and son. It’s the mayor, and he immediately goes in on Emily, demanding whatever specific information she can give regarding the case. His wife reminds him to calm down, and the mayor apologize. He’s just understandably very concerned about this case, and is feeling the pressure from the public for answers. Emily reminds him that he needs to present a calm demeanor to the public, but that’s easier said than done right now.

Matt and Rossi, meanwhile, meet up with the mother of one of the missing boys, Joey. She’s visibly upset, and Matt and Rossi try to put her at ease a bit by showing interest in her son’s activities, which include games and papier-mâché projects She insists that she and her husband were very careful about Joey’s online activities, monitoring him and putting all the parental controls in place that they could. But of course, kids being savvy nowadays, they can easily find ways around that stuff, and she fears that maybe Joey met somebody shady online. Certainly a valid theory to look into.

Back at the station, Emily, Reid, and Tara are attempting to find some kind of connection between the kids, but so far, no luck. Garcia then interrupts their discussion with an update from her search of the local sex offender database. And it seems she’s found a potential doozy of a suspect, a man named Arthur. He’s got quite the nasty rap sheet: voyeurism, child porn, exposure, stealing young girls’ underwear, and his most recent crime was the statutory rape of a young girl. Gee, so glad he’s out and wandering around! His job has him working the graveyard shift, but he just happened to call in sick the night the kids went missing. And he owns a white van. Oh, yeah. Time for a talk with Arthur.

“You minding your business or theirs?”

Reid and Tara soon find Arthur, who’s sitting on a bench in the park, eyeing some nearby children in an unsettling way. He becomes instantly antagonistic when he learns they’re from the FBI and want to search his van, claiming they need a warrant. Turns out they don’t, though, ‘cause Arthur’s violating his parole, so he has no protections. Oops. Arthur doesn’t respond well to this, taking a swipe at Tara, but Reid ain’t having any of that nonsense. He manages to wrestle the guy down, slamming him face first into a table, and slaps the cuffs on him. Damn.

Rossi and Emily attempt to interrogate Arthur, and the guy doesn’t seem interested in exercising his right to remain silent. Emily asks him about his statutory rape charge, noting that the girl was thirteen years old. Ick. Arthur claims that he was “in love” with her, and even goes so far as to try and compare their relationship to that of Romeo and Juliet. Apparently, he believes that if he can get in trouble for “dating” a thirteen year old, so should Shakespeare, because Juliet was thirteen, too. I don’t even know where to begin pointing out all the ways that “logic” fails.

Rossi pointedly reminds Arthur that Romeo wasn’t, y’know, a fifty-some year old man, and tells him that he’s going to be arrested for his parole violation and assault on a federal agent. Arthur seems pretty pissed about this, but Rossi has some hilarious parting words of advice for him: “Look at it this way, someone asks you, ‘Wherefore art thou?’, you know what to say.” Smart-ass Rossi is the best Rossi.

The mayor meets up with the team at this point, suggesting they do a press conference to announce they’ve got their man. Emily’s hesitant, however, because as messed up as Arthur clearly is, they don’t believe he’s their unsub. His alibi checks out, and he’s frankly way too stupid to concoct such an elaborate ruse. The mayor is not happy about this, but his hands are tied at this point.

Soon after, we soon see a little girl being lured out of her home. She doesn’t go out her front door, though; instead, she climbs out her window, walks across the roof of her house, and jumps to the ground! Yikes. Luckily, she only seems to have a scraped knee from the fall, but that doesn’t stop her from getting into the unsub’s van.

This little girl’s name is Katie, and she doesn’t have any connection to the other kids, either. She was homeschooled, and her parents tell Reid that they’d taken all the precautions they could to try and keep their daughter safe, even going so far as to actually barricade their door. The fact their efforts didn’t work adds another chilling layer to this unsub’s M.O. No matter what these parents do to protect their children, he will find a way around it.

None of these kids may know each other personally, but the team’s certain there’s still got to be some kind of connection lurking somewhere. At the very least, they all likely had some kind of previous interaction with the unsub, so that, combined with the fact that Katie liked to make papier-mâché projects as well, has the team looking into the adults working with them on these activities.

The case then takes another unusual turn as the team gets word of a mysterious package that was delivered to the local newspaper. The package is, of course, from the unsub, and in it, they find a paper listing the names of the first three victims, some nail clippings (?), and a hard drive containing a video of the children being held in a dark room. Thankfully, they’re physically all right, but it’s clear they’re terrified. A voice appears on the tape as well, asking the question, “How does it feel?”, and we see a hook hanging above the children’s heads. Yeesh. The police further up their efforts to walk the streets, but given how savvy the unsub is, the team is doubtful this will work.

That night, we find ourselves at the home of the mayor’s family. While his wife is talking on the phone, their son hears a knock at the door. He tries to alert her to the visitor, but she can’t hear him, so he answers it himself. Do I even need to tell you this is a bad idea? When the team gets wind of this, they head out to the house, but the boy is gone. The most horrifying moment, however, happens when Reid and Rossi enter the kitchen. The boy’s mom is sitting at the kitchen table, having just set a burger patty on her plate.

Oh, yeah, and she’s absolutely drenched in blood and clearly out of it. Reid tries to assure her that help is coming, but he then realizes that it won’t do any good. Why? Because the woman is dead. Apparently, she was attacked with an ax, and the attack affected one portion of her brain, but spared the other part that dealt with instinct and habitual tasks. Okay, that is freaky on all kinds of levels.

So for those of you keeping count at home, we now have five children missing. The mayor is obviously distraught, and during his talk with the team, he reveals that his son, Timmy, had a cell phone. However, his parents had taken the phone away recently as punishment for Timmy not doing his chores. If their unsub is using the internet to connect with kids, that would explain his change in method here, then, as he had to improvise when he couldn’t connect with Timmy via phone.

The similarity with Joey and Katie’s art projects is no coincidence, either – they were both in a papier-mâché class being offered at a summer activities program. The other children attended the program, too, and took other types of classes while there. An investigation into the adults who worked there reveals that one of the teachers, a guy named Wayne, had been fired from the program three weeks in. Seems some of the parents were uncomfortable with how he interacted with some of the kids, and they shared their concerns. Problem is, though, there was no concrete evidence he’d actually done anything to any children. It was all just rumor and speculation. But the rumors destroyed his life, and led to his teenage son committing suicide. Quite a motive for retaliation, no?

Reid, Emily, and Garcia, meanwhile, finally discover exactly how the unsub is luring these children. He’d used ASMR videos. For those who aren’t familiar, ASMR stands for “autonomous sensory meridian response”. In short, it’s a reaction to some kind of auditory or visual stimuli. These videos include various images and noises children would react to (such as the sound of a swing set), and subliminal messages. He also recorded himself saying “Hamelin”, which is a reference to the Pied Piper. Seems he sees himself as the titular character, making these children follow him wherever he wants them to go. Unfortunately, that story doesn’t have a happy ending, as all the children drown. Uh-oh.

Back to Wayne for a moment, though. At this point it’s clear he’s the unsub, and he’s out and about in the park, possibly plotting his next kidnapping. He comes across a woman pushing a baby stroller, and initially starts up a pleasant conversation with her. It doesn’t take long, however, before their chat turns very dark, as Wayne tells her he’s heard she hurts her son, and that leads into a general rant about the rumors and the loss of his son. The woman is naturally freaked out at this point and tries to get away, but Wayne grabs her and holds her hostage.

Upon learning about what’s going down at the park, the team instantly rushes out there and tries to talk Wayne down. He does let the woman go, but tragically turns the gun on himself. While examining his body, Matt notices what looks to be some unusual mud on his shoe. Tests reveal that it’s from meat tenderizers, and that leads the team to a meat-tenderizing plant, where Wayne had been holding the children. The kids are tired and on the verge of sleep when the BAU gets there, but they’re otherwise unharmed, and are all carried out to safety and reunited with their families.

As noted, I felt this was a very strong return after the weak case in “Night Lights”. The opening scene, with the children all silently walking to the playground and then the van in the middle of the night, was very well done and set the perfect eerie tone for the episode. If I didn’t know better, actually, I would’ve sworn that was the opening scene to an episode directed by Matthew Gray Gubler. It seemed like the sort of story that would’ve been right up his alley.

Also creepy? The scene with Timmy’s mom being covered in blood. It was also a perfect example of how this story didn’t quite go where you expected it to, both in terms of the case as a whole (the revelation of how and why the unsub was luring his victims), and in the smaller details, such as that scene in the kitchen. Not only did it add to the consistently disturbing atmosphere of the story, but, of course, it also kept me invested in the case, as well as those affected. The fact that there was no clear cut obvious suspect early on helped with that as well – Arthur was an admittedly kind of obvious red herring, but his scenes were still memorable and even entertaining, thanks to Rossi and Reid’s reactions to him in particular.

Meanwhile, we had the mayor, whom I’m sure a few had suspected as being the unsub, and they did well at keeping his response to all the craziness subtle enough to where the viewers who did suspect him would be forgiven for not being quite sure just which side he was on. This was one of those cases where keeping the unsub hidden for much of the episode was a smart move.

And then when he was revealed, he had a motive and a method that was intriguing and even tinged with a bit of the sympathy this show is known for. The only downside to the reveal is that I felt the method, while novel, was a little too elaborate – a Pied Piper unsub is a good idea in and of itself, but I think there could’ve been an easier way to make that work other than using these strange videos. And when the team did confront him at long last, it felt a bit rushed. Once we knew who our unsub was, I would’ve liked to see a bit more exploration of his internal struggles. One rant at a woman in a park and an abrupt just felt kinda slight in terms of an ending for him. Those are small nitpicks, though.

I also liked how involved the team generally was in this case. Emily’s interaction with the mayor was good, though I would’ve liked to maybe see her have to deal with some of the anguished and angry public as well. Maybe the mayor blames her for his son’s kidnapping. Maybe the local paper is hounding them for further info after getting the package, or criticizing them for not catching the guy right away. Maybe some of the townspeople are coming into the station angry and wanting answers. Stuff like that, with people venting their anger, could’ve helped add some good shade and balance to the tense atmosphere. Luckily, we got some good examples of that with Rossi’s interaction with Arthur.

As for the others, it was fitting that Matt would take particular notice of the kids’ interests and interact with the grieving parents, given he too is a father. Reid and Tara made for a good tag team throughout as well, using their ability to focus on the small details. I also loved how they were both so no-nonsense with Arthur. The only one who really seemed to be kind of in the background this episode was Luke, but he was still able to do the whole “action guy” thing when needed.

There was one person missing from the team this episode, but unlike Luke, she was still very much front and center, in a much more personal story. Let’s see what JJ was up to while the rest of the team was in Iowa.

Meanwhile, back at Quantico:

“I know our relationship hasn’t always been smooth sailing.”

As the episode begins, JJ tells Reid that her mom’s going to be staying with her for a bit, as it seems her home has been flooded and needs repairs. Unfortunately, they won’t be able to stay at JJ’s place, because they’re in the midst of a paint job and the family’s cleared out while that’s going on. JJ booked a hotel, but now it looks like she’ll have to add her mom into the mix. Reid tries to be all cheerful about the opportunity. Mom and daughter spending time together, that should be fun, right?

JJ’s clearly not as enthused, however, and anyone who’s got any familiarity with her family history can figure out why, as JJ and her mom have had an up and down relationship over the years. Before heading to the jet, Reid lets JJ know he’ll be there for her if she needs to talk, and even offers his shoulder for her to cry on as well. It’s a cute gesture, and it puts a smile on JJ’s face, so that’s something for now.

Since JJ’s got to stay at work, her mom decides to come and hang out with her in the conference room. She chooses to spend her time there poking through case files and distracting JJ by reminiscing about a family trip to Ocean City years ago. She mentions an incident in which the family had gone to a seafood place, and JJ, upon realizing that a lobster was going to be cooked, freaked out at the idea. That, her mom claims, was proof of how much she wanted to save lives.

She then suggests that she and JJ take a trip back to Ocean City that following weekend, but JJ reminds her that so long as she’s working this case, she can’t go anywhere. JJ doesn’t say it aloud, but it’s clear on her face that she kind of wants her mom to stop talking (especially about anything relating to Roz) and just let her get back to her work.

Later, the two of them are having a dinner break. JJ mentions that she found out her mom actually did have other options for places to stay, and wonders why she didn’t take any of those offers. Her mom explains that she needed an excuse to get JJ to let her stay over, because she thought her daughter would refuse if she’d asked outright. She reminds JJ that she doesn’t make much effort to come home for a visit, and that leads into a big rant about how lonely she is back in Pennsylvania, and how much it bothers her that they never spend time together.

JJ’s got valid reasons for not wanting to return home, of course. Aside from the fact that she’s obviously got a very busy job, her memories of her time in East Allegheny aren’t all that great. The tension between the two women increases as a result of this fight, and the argument ends on an awkward note. After the case wraps up, however, JJ’s mom invites her to sit down for a proper chat. She asks JJ if she’d ever spent time imagining what her future would be like, and reveals that when she was a little girl, she imagined a movie future of herself. In this future, she was happily married, with her two beautiful daughters, living a peaceful life in a nice home.

“You look in those folders so the rest of us don’t have to.”

Of course, as we all know, her life didn’t turn out that way at all, and she put that fantasy life away after her daughter’s death. She then admits that she spent so much time mourning and blaming herself and everyone else that she wasn’t able to focus as much on the fact that JJ was struggling as well. She apologizes, and then tells JJ how proud she is of her, and how much she admires her for the work she does helping people. That gets them both all emotional, and with that, the two women patch things up.

Reid calls JJ on the plane ride home, and she assures him all is good. She then asks if he’s ever imagined his own future, and he initially responds in typical Reid fashion, talking about particles and pointless speculation. He then admits that yes, he has imagined not one, but about three or four different kinds of futures for himself. What they are, he doesn’t say, but JJ’s certainly curious to hear about them at some point. “It’s a date,” Reid tells her. Aw. Later, as JJ and her mom board the elevator, JJ suggests a trip back to Ocean City, and perhaps a visit to that seafood restaurant as well.

This was a nice, bittersweet little side story. We’ve seen glimpses of the tension in JJ’s family in the past – she argued with her mom in “If the Shoe Fits” about what to tell Henry regarding Roz’s death, and “The Tall Man” gave us a deeper look into just how fraught things were in JJ’s home leading up to that tragedy. So it was nice to get some further exploration of the family dynamic, and tie up some of these loose ends regarding JJ’s painful past. I think these peeks into JJ’s past have done very well at giving us a better idea of why she is the way she is, and why she’s become more hardened in some ways over the years, as well as why she tends to close herself off and keep secrets sometimes.

At the same time, however, I also loved seeing her turn to somebody else regarding her problems – in this case, Reid – and I also liked seeing her and her mom finally getting some of these issues off their chests. She’s learned over the years that hiding this stuff doesn’t solve anything, and that she’s got people she can trust and lean on, and it was nice to see her actually tackling these problems head on for a change, no matter the risk. Plus, I imagine many women out there could relate to the general nature of this mother/daughter dynamic, and could point to their own examples of tough conversations and issues they’ve had to work out. It’s these little details that prove why this show has lasted and held the fanbase it has all these years – we can find a connection and common ground with these characters and their stories.

The moments between JJ and Reid were really cute and sweet as well. It’s scenes like those that perfectly show why I love the friendship between these two so much, and like JJ, I too am very curious about these “three or four futures” that Reid has imagined for himself. I hope, as the show winds down, we get to either hear about or see examples of those futures, both for him and the team in general if the show so wishes. That discussion is also fitting given the recent news that season fifteen of this show will be its last – depending on how the series wraps things up, we may get a glimpse into those imagined futures, then.

In the meantime, however, we’ve still got three episodes left of this season to focus on, and the next one will bring the directorial debut of AJ Cook! Something to look forward to, for sure.

What did you think of the episode? Did you find the case suitably creepy? What types of ASMR videos might work on you, if any? Did you enjoy seeing JJ’s mom? Have you ever imagined what your future would be like, and if so, do you have multiple versions of it, like Reid? What kinds of futures can you see for the team? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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