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Criminal Minds - Under the Skin/Awakenings – Double Review: “Chaos”



So after nearly a full year’s wait, here we are, at long last. The final season.

Hard to believe, isn’t it? It’s both an exciting and bittersweet moment, and with two episodes down right off the bat, it’s even more apparent just how little time we have left with this show and these characters now.

Luckily, if these first two episodes are any indication, it seems this final season is setting up to tie up a lot of loose ends, both for the case side of things and on a personal level for the team members themselves, and I’m very intrigued to see how it will all play out. I think they’ve set up an interesting story with the hunt for the Chameleon, an unsub we first met last season and who looks to be our final big threat as the show winds down.

The personal aspect of the show is what has me most invested, however. These characters were what drew me into the show years ago, and I’m really curious to find out what will become of them. These two episodes gave me some hope and assurance that the show plans to leave these people in a good place at the end of it all. They resolved a very controversial storyline from last season’s finale in what I thought was a pretty balanced and respectful manner, and while the second hour may have focused heavily on one team member’s struggles, it’s clear the advice he got can and will apply to the team at large going forward.

There’s a LOT to get through here – two-parters will do that – so without further ado, let’s dive in.

The Case:

A man drives up to what looks to be a very nice-looking home late one night. Given it’s late and the lights are off, I would take that as a cue to just, y’know, leave, but no, the guy decides to see if the occupant is still there anyway. Surprisingly, the homeowner does respond. He invites the young man inside and tells him to make himself at home, have a glass of wine, and look at some of the guy’s artwork.

Big mistake. Because as he does so, he starts noticing some rather disturbing photos of men being bound...and cut up...and dead. At that point, the unsub appears, and the young man tries desperately to get away. But he’s been drugged by the wine, you see, and...well, you can guess the rest from there. You know the drill, time for the BAU to get involved, right?

Eh, not so fast. Only one team member is investigating this new crime scene as the episode begins: Rossi. Thanks to a phone conversation with Emily, we learn that he’s been spending the last six months obsessively trying to track down the Chameleon...alone. For those who may need a refresher, the Chameleon is an unsub named Everett Lynch that was introduced towards the end of last season. He’s a con man who dons various disguises, romancing various women before scamming and ultimately killing them, and removing their faces. Yeah.

Lynch’s daughter Grace had joined him on his crime spree. She was ultimately caught, and has been sitting in jail for the past few months. Lynch, meanwhile, has yet to be found. This case has left Rossi especially frustrated, in large part because he nearly became one of Lynch’s victims in the process. But he’s also angry because he feels like Lynch is always one step ahead of him, and it’s been leading him to question and doubt his own abilities of late.

As a result, he’s been keeping tabs on any crimes that bear any similarities, no matter how small, to Lynch’s work, and this young man’s murder may fit the profile, as he too has been skinned alive. As time goes on and other men are murdered in a similar fashion, Rossi’s even more convinced Lynch is involved in this somehow. Since Lynch struggles with his own lack of any proper identity (hence the skinning), he’s now going after men he envies. Men who are comfortable in their skin, as it were.

Just one problem, though. Both types of murders involve skinning the victims, sure, but in the case of these men, their torsos were removed. Lynch took his victims’ faces. The men were also left in open fields, where the unsub could revisit the crime scene. Lynch’s victims, meanwhile, were murdered in their homes, and their houses were burned to cover up the evidence. He had no interest in revisiting his crime scenes.

Granted, it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility for an unsub to change their M.O., but this would be such a dramatic shift in so many ways, and the connection is thin at best. The profile just doesn’t quite fit. Rossi’s fully convinced of his own theory, though. He even goes so far as to suggest Lynch is picking men to specifically taunt and draw him out.

When Rossi shares his thoughts with the rest of the team later on, they’re skeptical, to say the very least, and a bit worried. Emily in particular is coming down rather hard on him, concerned about his determination to go it alone, and the process by which he’s doing so. Reid points out that Rossi’s bias may cloud his judgment, reminding him that the statistical probabilities work against his theory. It’s Rossi against the team, and the tension is noticeable.

As the team continues to work the case, they learn that the unsub used a dating site to lure in his victims – and what’s more, it’s the same site Lynch used! A possible point in Rossi’s favor. He’s also using his victims’ credit cards, and uses a specific drug that only somebody in the medical field would have easy access to. Now we’re getting somewhere. JJ suggests Lynch might have a new partner, but Rossi shoots down that idea.

He’s not the only one whose focus may be off, though. When Reid apologies to Rossi for questioning him as he did, he realizes that he may have missed something as well. Notably, why a seasoned doctor is starting up a killing spree now, and in such an experienced way at that. What, or who, is his trigger?

It’s not long after that we finally get our answer. The unsub is revealed as Dr. Hurst, and he has a scarred chest. How he got it, we never know, but it left him feeling insecure. He eventually became a doctor, but over time, he developed a twisted fascination with cutting people’s skin, to the point where he’d extend surgeries to indulge his fixation. Yeesh. He’d even inserted himself into the team’s investigation at one point – Luke and Matt had interviewed him at the medical examiner’s office early on.

The most important revelation about Hurst, though? He knew Lynch! Turns out he’d dated Lynch’s mom Roberta years ago, only for her to con and abandon him. Unfortunately, he’d been quite the influence on young Lynch along the way. Recently, Lynch met up with and helped Hurst in exchange for help with his own crime spree. Ah, the circle of life. Rossi soon manages to track down Hurst, stopping another attempt on his own life in the process when Hurst tries to attack him. They take him in, and the focus turns back to trying to find Lynch.

I felt this case seemed a bit of a weak way to start the season. I liked the idea of Hurst having a connection to Lynch, largely because of how it affected Rossi’s, and by extension, the team’s, investigation. I always find it interesting when the team has a case that seems to challenge their expertise and throws them off a bit, and I thought that part of things was well handled here. I liked the way they balanced the similarities and differences between Hurst’s crimes and Lynch’s, to where all the team’s theories had some merit.

Still, I felt like the connection between Hurst and Lynch could’ve been handled and explored a little better. I get that the idea was to surprise us with the revelation that he knew Lynch, but something about the way it played out just felt a little anti-climactic. Maybe it was the way Rossi essentially summarized Hurst’s connection to Lynch so quickly at the end. It just came off more telling when they could’ve done more showing.

Plus, since a lot of people seemed to suspect Hurst early on anyway, given his behavior, that robbed the revelation of some of its surprise as well. I personally would’ve been fine with the hunt for the Chameleon being the sole focus for two hours, as that case was much more intense and has a lot more interesting aspects to explore.

The Hunt:

“What would we not do for family?”

At one point, Emily comes to Rossi with some exciting news. Grace wants to talk about her dad and make a deal. Rossi had hoped to get her to open up when he’d last visited her in prison, planning to use the fact that her dad had left her to rot in jail as a motivator for her to turn on him and get a lighter sentence. At the time, she’d refused, but now she seems to have changed her tune. Emily also wants to bring Roberta in, and use the two women against each other.

Turns out it’s all a ruse, though, as Grace is actually formulating an escape plan...all with the help of her father. Lynch poses as her lawyer, and after Grace kills an officer bringing her in, the two flee. Upon learning about the officer’s murder and Grace’s plot, the team tries to track Lynch and Grace’s whereabouts, calling in local backup for help.

For some reason, however, the backup is taking their good sweet time in coming, and so the team must jump into action on their own. Lynch tries to lure them into a trap, and they soon realize the duo might be in an underground garage. Reid goes to one end of the garage while JJ makes her way to the other. She manages to find Lynch and his daughter, and gets them to turn over their guns. All looks like it’ll end well…

...until Grace pulls a gun she’d hidden away in her jacket and shoots JJ! She’s wounded badly, too, to the point of coughing up blood. With her down, the two escape once more, taking out an elderly couple along the way in order to steal a car. At this point, Lynch suggests they split up, but Grace isn’t on board. She has a better plan. She looks up a friend named Charlotte she’d known at a boarding school back in the day.

Yes, a boarding school As Grace’s guardian, Roberta had used her con abilities to get Grace into a nice school and give her a whole new identity. She explains to Rossi that she did all of this in an attempt to protect Grace from Lynch’s clutches. Problem is, after Grace had been kicked out for bad behavior, she’d tracked down her father for a reunion. Roberta refuses to believe Grace is murdering people of her own free will, insisting that Lynch is manipulating and using her.

So now the question is, why does Grace want to see her old school friend? Well, turns out Charlotte is more than just a friend – the two women were a couple once, and Grace uses their history to her advantage. She tells some sob story about needing Charlotte’s support after the death of her grandma, but what she really wants is dig into Charlotte’s family’s vast wealth to help her and her father escape.

The ruse works, and next thing Charlotte knows, she’s being held captive, while Grace poses as her in an attempt to get some cash. The robbery plan fails, however. Eventually, Matt and Luke track down where Grace is holding Charlotte, but they’re in for a shock. Charlotte, thankfully, is alive, but Grace is not. Her own father murdered her. And he took her face. Just. Damn. Roberta is genuinely devastated and angry upon hearing this news, and Rossi begs her to help him get Lynch once and for all. She seems to be strongly considering his offer. Lynch, meanwhile, remains in the wind.

As noted, this was clearly the stronger case of the two, for me, anyway. The idea of Lynch continuing the crime family tradition that Roberta had started with him makes for an interesting dynamic to play with, and seeing Lynch so...excited...over how quickly Grace turned violent added a really disturbing element to their relationship and to Lynch’s mindset. Having him kill his own daughter later on was a terrifying way to up the stakes, and has me even more scared about what else he’s capable of. It gives Rossi’s hunt for him a deeper sense of urgency, and sets us up for what will no doubt be one hell of a showdown.

And I especially love what they’re doing with Roberta here. On the one hand, she’s a criminal, and she knows how to manipulate, too, as seen in her flirty interactions with Rossi (and last season, Matt and Luke). But I also love how deeply protective she is of her granddaughter. Her reaction to Grace’s death was legitimately heartbreaking, and the idea of her teaming up with Rossi to take down Lynch intrigues me no end. So many possibilities with that kind of setup – either she’ll prove to be a great asset, or she could use her manipulative skills to double cross both Lynch and Rossi. Whatever route this story goes, I’m looking forward to seeing how it plays out. With a short season, hopefully that means this story arc will be tighter and stronger.

I will say this, though, um, Reid? JJ? What have we learned about what happens when you two split up to chase an unsub? Yeah. Please stop doing that.

So now we’ve discussed the cases, let’s get to the elephant in the room: JJ’s confession that she loves Reid. How did the show decide to resolve such a divisive, stunning revelation?

Clearing the Air:

“You prepare for the inevitable, but it’s still difficult to accept when things actually change.”

The episode actually starts off happy for most of the team. They’re all gathered together at Luke’s place for a baby shower for Matt and Kristy, who, you will recall, found out they’re expecting child number five at the end of last season. Matt wants to know the baby’s gender, but they’ve agreed to keep it a surprise, since the baby itself was a surprise.

I say “most of the team”, though, because there are two people who are in a rather difficult place as the season begins: Reid and JJ. It’s been six months in the show’s universe since JJ dropped that love confession bombshell on Reid, and to say their friendship has been cool during that time may well be an understatement. Even when they’re working the case involving the murdered men, their interactions remain entirely professional (save for one moment when JJ trips and oh, hey, she stumbles into Reid’s arms, ‘cause lord knows things aren’t awkward enough).

It seems it’d have to take a dramatic situation for things between the two to start thawing at long last, and JJ getting shot winds up being the catalyst for that. Reid’s the first to find her, and he follows her to the hospital. A nurse asks if he’s her husband (heh), and that’s when Reid gets a hold of Will. It’s not long until he arrives, and all the two men can do is sit and wait together.

“I just stopped talking...to you.”

Fortunately, JJ makes it it through surgery, and Reid is eager to see her. She’s not awake yet, but he visits anyway, and in true Reid fashion, he just starts rambling, spilling all his thoughts and feelings about what’s transpired between them of late. JJ’s admission was a lot to take in, he says, and he wasn’t sure how to respond, let alone if she meant what she said. Neither of them knew how to broach the subject, so they just...never discussed it, and became distant. Reid’s emotional now, begging JJ to wake up, unable to bear the thought of going on without her. Aw.

Eventually, of course, JJ does wake up, and Reid visits once again. She thanks him for saving her life, and asks him to stay. Now it’s her turn to comment on this messy situation. She tells Reid she’s missed him these past few months, and claims it’s her fault that things have been so weird between them. She assures him that her confession of love was sincere, and admits she would’ve kept the secret, but in that moment, “I needed to say something real.” She also assures Reid she didn’t mean to hurt him.

JJ goes even deeper then, telling Reid that he was her first love, which, whoa, and that will never change. However, she also does love Will, noting that both men hold a special place in her life and heart. So basically, her feelings for Reid can be described as a, “what could’ve been” type of love. Ultimately, however, she just wants him to be happy, and for the two of them to be okay. Reid wants that, too, and their friendship looks to be on the mend at long last.

“There’s a whole lot of people out there who love you.”

At this point, JJ’s sons come in to see her, and I’m momentarily distracted because OH MY GOD THEY’VE GOTTEN SO BIG WHERE DID THE TIME GO? Eventually, after a time, it’s just JJ and Will, and they have a sweet, quiet moment together, expressing their love for each other.

It’s never easy for a show to resolve a storyline that proves controversial with the fandom, and there were a lot of theories and fears about how well this show would handle this entire situation. Would they try and play it like JJ didn’t mean it? Would they put her and Reid together, and end JJ’s marriage? Would there be a big love triangle dominating the season?

Turns out it was none of the above. Most of those options I didn’t expect would happen (notably the love triangle and destroying JJ’s marriage), but even then, I was worried there’d still be some messiness involved. I’m very happy, though, that that turned out not to be the case, either. This was probably about the best, most mature way they could’ve resolved this situation, and they managed to do so in a way that I felt placated both those who liked Reid/JJ and those who didn’t. As a fan of the pairing, I appreciate that they didn’t have JJ take back her words, or play it off as a lie. I knew she’d never tell a lie in a situation like that, so I’m glad to be proven right about that.

And I also like that they did acknowledge that there was, and is, something deeper between Reid and JJ. It makes perfect sense to me that theirs is a “what if” type of bond, and largely fits with my view of why things never worked out between them. The “first love” part does feel a bit much, mainly because I feel like JJ likely had one well before she met Reid – a serious high school or college boyfriend of some kind. But otherwise, it was nice to get an idea of how they felt about each other.

At the same time, I also like that they acknowledged the importance of the life JJ has now with Will and her sons, and how that life is just as special to her as the one she could’ve had with Reid. It’s very possible to love two people at once, just in different ways, and I think this episode did a good job of illustrating that. I never thought JJ would end her marriage, nor did I ever expect her and Reid to run off together or start some torrid affair, so seeing her make clear her commitment to her family at the end was a good way to put those fears to rest.

If I have one complaint, it’s that I think It would’ve been nice to let this conversation happen without having to put JJ in peril in the process. I get the whole thing of being near death making people appreciate what they have and all that, but it would’ve been interesting to see other ways they could’ve had Reid and JJ address these issues as well.

And speaking of addressing issues, Reid’s situation with JJ wasn’t the only thing on his mind this episode. A visit from a beloved character brought up more issues worth exploring as well.

Mother Knows Best:

“You’re an adult now.”

Just when it seems the day can’t get any more crazy and chaotic, Reid gets a call regarding his mom. She’s back in facility care now, and things have been touch and go ever since (she didn’t even recognize Reid during his last visit). Reid goes to see her, and when he arrives, he’s in for a surprise: his mom’s doing very well. It’s a welcome sight to Reid, both for obvious reasons and also because he needs to get a lot off his chest. And who better to help him sort through everything than his mom?

Reid explains all that’s happened with JJ, telling Diana he’s done the whole “what could’ve been” thing with her, too, and admits the entire situation has left him confused and uncertain. Diana takes this opportunity to mention his dad, explaining how they’d tried to hold their marriage together, even after her diagnoses. However, the “rollercoaster”, as she describes it, regarding her struggle with her medication ultimately became too much over time, and their love couldn’t withstand it.

Despite this, Diana confesses, she still had hope that one day her husband would return, and they would rebuild their marriage and be happy together again. Obviously, that never happened, and it was a painful time for Diana as a result, as she closed herself off from others because she waited so long. She doesn’t want that same thing to happen to Reid.

As their visit wraps up, Reid shares his renewed hope that maybe Diana might be okay this time, given how well she’s doing now. Diana’s a lot more realistic, having long ago accepted her fate. She tells Reid that she’s tired of the clinical trials and the studies, the constant search for a cure that doesn’t exist, and seeing her and Reid’s hopes dashed over and over again. Reid does not take well to her words, and they part on less than happy terms.

Thankfully, they manage to rectify that when he next comes to see her. Reid apologizes for his anger, acknowledging that he’s afraid of losing her, and not just for the obvious reason. “I don’t think I know who I am in this world, if I’m not your son,” he explains. For that matter, what is he without JJ, and a future with her? Basically, he just feels stuck, and even jokes that he should move in with Diana.

His mom assures him that he’s so much more than her son, than a “boy wonder”, and reminds him that he needs to move on and see what else his life can be, both personally and professionally. They end their visit with a game of chess.

It’s always a treat when Diana Reid pops in for a visit, but I will admit, when Reid got the call about his mom at the start of this episode, I was briefly afraid that things with them would end on a very sad note. I probably shouldn’t have been, because it’d be overkill to end things tragically with Diana at the very same time Reid’s fretting over JJ. Plus, since I believe this is the last time we’ll see Diana before the show ends for good, why end things on a dark note? But knowing what they’ve put Reid through in the past, I still couldn’t help worrying anyway.

I’m very happy that I didn’t need to worry in the end. It was so nice to have this last glimpse of Diana be a much more positive one, with her helping Reid through his problems and being her usual thoughtful, gentle self. Her parting advice to Reid, reminding him that he’s so much more than her caretaker or a boy wonder, was very touching and moving, and I will freely admit to getting a little choked up during her “You’re an adult now” speech. If this is our parting memory of her, it’s a good one to end things on, and it allows me to sit here and hope that someday in the future, she and Reid can finally get the good news they deserve regarding her future.

So! Quite the way to kick off the season, huh? If they can pack this much into two episodes, it has me wondering how much of a breather we’ll get in these final eight episodes. As always, though, I look forward to discussing it all with you.

What did you think of these episodes? Did you approve of how they resolved the whole Reid/JJ situation? Did you enjoy seeing Diana again? What do you think will happen with the Chameleon, and the team’s attempts to track him down? Were you shocked by what happened with Grace? What are your hopes for the remainder of the series? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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